Kochi: After last week’s morale-crushing defeat to Goa in the Indian Super League, Kerala Blasters resume their year-end campaign without ‘playmaker’ Dimitar Berbatov as an unpredictable NorthEast United pay them a visit here on Friday.
Bulgarian striker Berbatov, who had found a new home as a creative midfielder since the second game of the season, was substituted out inside five minutes in Goa and has been ruled out until at least December 31, with a calf injury.
Kerala’s struggles in Berbatov’s absence were apparent in Goa as they lost 2-5, their third heaviest in ISL, against Sergio Lobera’s Goa who were aided by a Ferran Corominas hat-trick in the second half.
But Rene Meulensteen, who is still in search of his first win this season, sounded optimistic on the eve of their fifth round game and is looking to use the depth in his squad.
C.K. Vineeth will return from suspension and the in-form Mark Sifneos should lead the line. Milan Singh is expected to partner Arata Izumi in central midfield.
NorthEast are a point ahead of Kerala, with a win and a draw but Joao Carlos Pires de Deus’ side are yet to string together a pair of positive results this season. The Highlanders defeated Delhi before losing to Bengaluru last week.