Goa, March 10: Still basking in the afterglow of a maiden League Shield title, Jamshedpur FC will start as hot favourites against Kerala Blasters FC in the first of the two-legged semifinal of the 2021-22 Hero Indian Super League at the PJN Stadium in Fatorda on Friday.
Jamshedpur have had a stellar season, to say the least, the club not only finishing top of the points table with a whopping 43 points from 20 games but also breaking several records en route. It is the first semifinal for the Red Miners and also the League Shield win has been testimony to the good work done by head coach Owen Coyle and the management. Jamshedpur's 43 points are the most by a team in the league stages of a single Hero ISL season.
Coyle's side have only lost three games and their consistency can be underlined by the fact that their longest winless run this season is the three matches, this being the only time in the league stages where they went more than one match without a win. Greg Stewart has been at the heart of Jamshedpur's success, scoring 10 goals and providing 10 assists in the 19 matches he played.
Stewart's presence in the final third has made a lot of difference and Coyle would hope the Scotsman continues to deliver the goods in the knockout games as well. Another top addition to Jamshedpur ranks has been Daniel Chima Chukwu who arrived from SC East Bengal in the January transfer window.
Chima has scored seven goals so far in nine matches, failing to find the back of the net on only three occasions and helping Jamshedpur win eight of those nine games he took part in.
"We have played a lot of games in a short amount of time. Every game was a high-pressure game. In the run that we have put together, we had to in order to be at the top and win the Shield. Every team around was winning games and were stringing together unbeaten runs.
"We have been the best team in the country. The points table shows that and also the run we have been in. But when you come into a cup competition anything can happen. We are wary of the quality of the opponents. Kerala is a great team, they have a wonderful coach. I know it's going to be two tough games. We have to make sure we are at our very best."
Kerala, meanwhile, reached the semis for the first time since 2016 after finishing fourth in the table, staving off the challenge from Mumbai City FC. It was a season of highs for Kerala too as they strung together some impressive performances with players like Alvaro Vasquez, Jorge Diaz, Adrian Luna and Sahal Abdul Samad stepping up more often than not. The fab four have shared 26 goals among them, also providing a lot of assists and leaving a mark in almost every game.
"It's a very tough team. Now is a new chapter. There is a new fight and it will be a new day. It will be an open fight and I expect nothing but that. It will be a physical contest, many duels and tackles," said Kerala head coach Ivan Vukomanovic.
"You need to be focussed over 180 minutes. There are two legs and there are many possibilities. We will do our best. We will try to use some moments to create something. We like to compete and we like to fight. I would like to believe we are a tough team to beat," he added.
The last time the two sides met, Jamshedpur thrashed Kerala 3-0, and the two teams shared the spoils in the first leg.
Match kicks off at 7:30pm IST
Live on Star Sports Network
Live Streaming on Disney+Hotstar & Jio TV
Source: ISL Media