ISL 2016 - Kerala Blasters: Reviewing their season so far
The electric atmosphere at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has thus far shown more consistency than Kerala Blasters‘ performance in the third season of Indian Super League. It is now a matter of pride for the men in yellow to step up their performance in the upcoming matches.
Blasters steadily improving
After a horrid start to the new campaign which included a narrow defeat against Northeast United and Atletico de Kolkata, they managed to put up a strong performance in the games against Delhi Dynamos, Mumbai City F.C and Pune F.C. It is notable that with a disciplined midfield structure Kerala Blasters enjoyed plenty of possession in all three games.
Their manager, Steve Coppell seemed to have finally carved out a balanced midfield combination in Mehtab Hossain and Azrack Mahamat to dictate the tempo of the game. They have done an excellent job in circulating ball into the spaces down the flanks from where Blasters regularly tested the opposition defence.
Moreover, their immaculate efforts to get possession straightaway after losing it helped Blasters from getting caught out in counter attacks and well-versed opposition moves.
Above all, the most important part is their occasional interchange of position, meaning one would cover the defence while his partner joins the attack which is reminiscent of modern European approach that leverages the prospect of a versatile and dynamic midfield.
German yet to influence
In Kerala Blasters's second season in ISL, which ultimately turned out to be an utter disappointment, Antonio German personally enjoyed a fruitful season with six goals and three assists to his name.
It didn't come as a surprise when his name was included in the list of players retained for 2016 ISL season. However, he's yet to hit the ground running in his second season, which to some extent explains their sluggish start.
After being touted as the focal point of Blasters attack, he struggled to replicate the old form and had been far less of an attacking threat in the matches he played. Fortunately, Coppell's timely intervention by replacing him with the 24-year old Haitian forward Kervens Belfort instantly made the difference as Blasters grabbed their first victory after four matches of the new season.
His electric pace and incredible dribbling skills brought in a new lease of life into Blasters attack that was previously craving for creativity. Though the initial signs are encouraging, evolving German's form should be a top priority for the English manager.
Strong defensive approach
Kerala Blasters have the best defensive record in the league, having conceded three goals while scoring two goals in the process. It felt like they are as reluctant in conceding a goal as they are scoring which had been the case in the inaugural ISL season.
With marquee signing being rather surprisingly a defender Aaron Hughes, Blasters once again opted for huge defensive enforcements when the club is in desperate need of a proven striker. The addition of Cedric Hengbart further strengthened their previously shoddy defence with Sandesh Jhingan and Josue Currais Prieto covering the flanks.
Both wingbacks are a key part of Blasters ruthless defence with Josue - a resounding Spanish midfielder - replacing unavailable Rino Anto on left. Their towering influence was clearly visible against Delhi and Mumbai where the opposition rarely tested the Blasters goalkeeper Sandip Nandy.
If not with their finishing, Blasters can, of course, keep their knockout chances alive with a stringent defence, though at times, a little help from their attack will be much appreciated.
Still plenty of room for improvement
Every team seems to strike up a good fight keeping the chance wide open for their progress into the semi-final stage. Of the 20 games played, 10 games have been decided by one goal margin while seven games ended in a draw, and a mere 3 games saw emphatic victories. With this kind of intensity, it is inevitable that a heedless moment could have a profound impact on one's progress.
In Kerala's case, lack of a lethal striker still remains a concern as they are perilously wasteful in converting chances. The attacking force of Mohammad Rafi and Michael Chopra seemed to be ineffective as the former cuts an isolated figure due to lack of movement while Chopra often runs into deeper position to bridge the gap between midfield and attack which eventually leaves a void in the attacking role that is seldom filled by any player.
If German can recapture his form, then Belfort partnering Chopra in attack would add much-needed mobility in the center. Also, there are chances that Thongkosiem Haokip - the youngest Indian player to hit a hat-trick in ISL - would get a rare outing to impress for his new club.
Another possibility is playing Josue in attacking midfield who could play long balls into the box besides orchestrating the Kerala attack from a more advanced role than he's currently being in. But for now, it is unlikely to happen as Blasters are currently without a proper full-back to replace the 23-year old versatile player.