The runners-up of the inaugural edition, Kerala Blasters had a disappointing last season as they finished bottom of the points table. The Blasters, co-owned by the cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, will be hoping for a revival this season after they failed to live up to the expectations of passionate home fans last season.
Blasters will start their campaign on October 1 against NorthEast United in the opponent’s home turf and will surely hope to start it on a winning note. Blasters fans, who are considered to be their 12th man on the pitch, are eagerly waiting for their team to bring home the ISL title for the first time, which they narrowly missed in the first season.
They have a new coach in Steve Coppell and the team also looks quite balanced in the paper. Blasters started their campaign last year also against NorthEast United, in which the Kerala Side won comprehensively 3-1 on their home ground. Here's look out into this year's Kerala Blasters squad:
Goalkeepers: Sandip Nandy, Mohammed Ansari, Kunal Sawant, Graham Stack
Defenders: Rino Anto, Cedric Hengbart, Pratik Chowdhury, Aaron Hughes, Sandesh Jhingan, El Hadji Ndoye, Gurwinder Singh
Midfielders: Ishfaq Ahmed, Didier Kadio, Mehtab Hossain, Josue Currais Prieto, Prasanth Karuthadathkuni, Azrack Mahamat, Mohammed Rafique, Vinit Rai, CK Vineeth
Forwards: Kervens Belfort, Michael Chopra, Farukh Choudhury, Thongkhosiem Haokip, Duckens Nazon, Mohammed Rafi, Antonio German
Head Coach: Steve Coppell
Players Retained: Sandip Nandy, Sandesh Jhingan, Gurwinder Singh, Ishfaq Ahmed, Mehtab Hossain, Josue Currais Prieto, CK Vineeth, Mohammed Rafi, Antonio German
The Kerala Blasters looks altogether a different side, unlike the previous season the team looks complete in almost every section. The team is coming into the tournament after a healthy pre-season training under the new head coach Steven Coppell, who brings with him a bag full of managerial experience to the Blasters camp.
Unlike previous seasons, the team management looks more involved into the game and were seen aggressive with the signings. They made Aaron Hughes their marquee signing, who had featured in the recently concluded Euros for Northern Ireland, which clearly showed their intentions to sign players who are fit and can play throughout the tournament.
The major strength of the Kerala Blasters is their strong defense, which will make it hard for opposition teams to find the back of the net. Blasters has roped in veteran Graham Stack and is likely to be the man under the bars for Blasters. Graham Stack will receive ample support from his fellow defenders which consists the likes of Hughes, Cedric Hengbert, Rino Anto and Sandesh Jhingan.
Coppell would seem to stick with a 4 man defense guard with Rino Anto and Jhingan supporting the attacks through the flank. The midfield also seems to be pretty much balanced with plenty of quality and options at the disposal of coach Coppell, who himself was a winger and also believes in attack through the wings. Mehtab Hossain is most likely to play the role of the defensive midfielder in the lineup and do the dirty work for Coppell so that he can play more foreign talent up front in for the goal.
We could also see the new signing Mohammed Rafique if fit to play, and Antonio German to don the yellow jersey for the Blasters and carry out the attacks on the wings. For his vast experience and ability to read the game Michael Chopra might get a chance to play as the attacking midfielder instead of Josu Currais.
Chopra, who had his fitness issues in the first season for the Blasters is back in the squad after regaining his fitness and is definitely here to prove a point or two. It's more likely that Blasters will go with a two striker combination with Haitian international Kervens Belfort and Indian youngster Thongkhosiem Haokip. Blasters have plenty of options upfront with Duckens Nazon, Mohammed Rafi, and Farukh Choudhury all who has proven their attacking capabilities.
Note that Rino Anto and Kervens Belfort will miss the starting few matches as they have International and club commitments to fulfill.
Players to look out for
The 36-year-old marquee player, Hughes, unlike his predecessor is fully match-fit and is certainly one of the players to watch out for in the tournament. Carlos Marchena, the marquee signing last season was a big disappointment for the Blasters as he was only able to play 49 minutes in the whole tournament.
Hughes, who played for Northern Ireland in the recently concluded Euro is expected to lead the Blasters side through the competition. Kerala Blasters who looked weak on defence in the last season will feel relaxed after seeing the addition of Aaron Hughes to the squad. The former Newcastle and Fulham defender is not short of talent and brings with him loads of footballing experience.
Hughes is expected to form a strong partnership with Cedric Hengbert at the back for the Blasters. Hughes is known for his disciplined defending having made 445 appearances in the Premier League without receiving a red card which is behind only to Ryan Giggs.
Antonio German, a product of Queens Park Rangers youth set-up was certainly one of the bright spots for Blasters in an otherwise disappointing campaign in ISL 2015. Germain had a great season for the Blasters scoring 6 goals in 9 appearances. He also had 3 assists to his name making him a hot prospect for the Kerala Blasters. Antonio German is expected to be a regular starter for Kerala Blasters under Steve Coppell and will be seen leading the Kerala attacks through the flanks.
German is known for his blistering pace and dribbling abilities which make him a player to watch out for in the competition. He is a versatile player who can play both as a winger and as a striker. With Belfort set to miss the opening few games for the Blasters, German might be seen playing in front for the Blasters.
After the commencement of ISL 2015, many pundits later claimed that if German would have started for the Blasters from the opening round of the competition things could have been ended positively for the Blasters, which certainly shows the impact he made as a player.
The 23-year-old defender has undoubtedly been one of the finds of the tournament. He was instrumental in the Blasters’ success in the inaugural edition and was seen to be rock solid at the backline for the Blasters. His impressive performances in the ISL saw Jhingan making his debut for the Indian team and he has been a regular with the Indian team ever since.
Jhingan, who won the Emerging Player of the tournament in the inaugural season with Kerala Blasters is definitely a player to watch out for in this season. With the likes of veterans Hughes and Cedric Hengbert in the lineup, Jhingan will only be seen growing better under their guidances. Jhingan, who is also good in leading counter attacks will be an added threat to the opposition defenders.
With Blasters all set to start their campaign for reclaiming the lost pride they would surely need their powerful defender to be in his top form.