I-League: Gokulam Kerala hosts struggling Chennai City

Sixth-placed Gokulam Kerala hosts defending champion Chennai City, which has just one win all season, in the I-League on Thursday.

Players from Gokulam Kerala train at the Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode on Wednesday. Photo: S. Ramesh Kurup

Gokulam Kerala is one of the better sides in the I-League, and it found form in time for the competition, lifting the Durand Cup in sensational fashion and then reaching the semifinals of the Sheikh Kamal international tournament in Bangladesh.

In these early days of the league, it hasn't done badly to score seven points from four games. But it should have done better. Take its last game against Aizawl here a few days ago, for instance.

It failed to turn the numerous chances, a penalty kick as well as the one-man advantage for 70 minutes of the game into full points. It had to come from behind to force a 1-1 draw.

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The host will therefore be desperate to return to winning ways when it takes on Chennai City at the Corporation Stadium on Thursday. It hasn't exactly been a joy ride for the defending champion either.

The Chennai men have just five points from as many games. They have lost two matches and won only one. Gokulam, on the other hand, has posted two victories.

No Pedro Manzi

The visitor is also handicapped by the absence of Pedro Manzi, who was sold to the Japanese club Albirex Niigata. The Spanish striker played the key role in Chennai's success last season. With 21 goals he was the joint top-scorer of the I-League.

“A player of his calibre will definitely be missed,” Chennai's coach Akbar Nawas said. “Now it is up to the young players, like Suhail [Pasha], who will be playing tomorrow.”

The coach would also want to tighten the defence, which has let in eight goals so far; the team boasts a negative goal average, in fact. Gokulam has scored five goals and conceded four.

The home team should have been able to score more though, given the firepower it has in Henry Kisekka and captain Marcus Joseph. If they get going, the Chennai defence could have a tough time.

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