PKL playoffs: Clash of table-toppers for berth in final

After 12 weeks and 132 matches, the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) enters its final week. The top three teams in each of the two zones -- which had six teams each -- have progressed to the playoffs.

This stage will include six matches with the toppers of the two zones facing each other in Qualifier 1, with the winner of the match progressing directly to the final.

The second placed team in each zone will face the third placed team in the other zone, with the winners of those two matches facing each other and the losers getting eliminated. The winner of that match then faces the loser of Qualifier 1 in Qualifier 2. The winner of Qualifier 2 then progresses to the final.

We assess the chances of each of the six teams by looking at the matchups that are already determined:

Gujarat Fortunegiants vs. Bengal Warriors (Qualifier 1), October 24, 8 pm

No team won more matches than Gujarat (15) in the group stage of the PKL and they will take on Zone B toppers Bengal, who won four matches lesser, in Qualifier 1. However, Zone B was a lot more competitive than Zone A -- third-placed Haryana Steelers scored 23 points more than fourth-placed U Mumba in Zone A. On the other hand, there was just a three-point difference between qualifiers UP Yoddha and Bengaluru Bulls, who finished fourth, in Zone B.

Gujarat -- one of the four new teams in the tournament -- have faced Bengal once in the group stage, when the teams were tied at 26-26 at the end of the match.

The match is likely to be decided by the battle between Bengal's impressive raiders and Gujarat's resolute defence. Bengal might start with Maninder Singh, Jang Kun Lee and Deepak Narwal as the three raiders in its starting seven. The Gujarat defence will have the Iranian duo of Abozar Mighani and Fazel Atrachali in the right and left corner respectively. They will be supported by the solid Parvesh Bhainswal and the versatile Sunil Kumar in the two cover positions.

Player to watch out for: Sachin

The tall raider was the highest scorer for Gujarat the last time these two teams met and he will hold the key for them again as his speed and reach will put the experienced defender Ran Singh (Bengal) under serious pressure in the left corner position.

Puneri Paltan vs. UP Yoddha (Eliminator 1), October 23, 8 pm

Had Pune won their last match in the group stage, they would have finished top of Zone A and had two bites at the chance to make the final. They will fancy their chances against UP though, a team they defeated 34-33 in their only meeting in the group stage this year.

UP's charge would be led by the prolific raiding duo of Nitin Tomar and Rishank Devadiga, both of whom are in the list of top 10 points scorers this season. UP's tally of 438 raid points is second only to Patna but they'll be up against the best defensive team of this season as Pune's 243 tackle points are the most this season.

Pune might look to play the vastly experienced Dharmaraj Cheralathan in the right corner position and the impressive Rinku Narwal in the left corner. Sandeep Narwal and Bangladesh's Ziaur Rahman might start as the two covers.

Player to watch out for: Deepak Niwas Hooda

Pune's captain Deepak scored a staggering 17 points when these two teams met in the group stage in a match where he injured his hand and almost passed out at one stage. Veteran defender Jeeva Kumar might hold the key to subduing Hooda in the UP defence.

Patna Pirates vs. Haryana Steelers (Eliminator 2), October 23, 9 pm

Two-time champions Patna Pirates have again entered the playoffs on the back of captain Pardeep Narwal's imperious raiding skills. Pardeep's 274 raid points are the most by a single player this season. However, he'll face the best defender of the league in the form of Steelers' captain Surender Nada, whose 79 tackle points are more than any other defender this season.

Both these teams played out a high-scoring tie (41-41) when they faced each other in the group stage with Pardeep's 13 points helping Patna to avoid a defeat.

The match might be decided by the mini-battle between Patna's raiders Pardeep and Monu Goyat and Steelers' defenders Nada and Mohit Chhillar.

Player to watch out for: Mohit Chhillar

Mohit was the most expensive player in the previous season and is a key part of the Indian national team as well. Though he has had a quiet season so far, he is a big match player and his performance in the World Cup final last year was one of the keys to India winning the tournament. With Nada in the best form of his life, Patna might look to attack Mohit but that move can backfire quickly if he is anywhere close to his best.