ISL 2018-19: Kerala Blasters 1-1 ATK – 5 talking points

Garcia's goal was not enough to salvage a win for ATK [Image: ISL]
Garcia's goal was not enough to salvage a win for ATK [Image: ISL]
Avik Roy

After a long gap of 40 days due to the Asian Cup break, Indian Super League has finally returned with the match between Kerala Blasters and ATK.

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Both the teams have witnessed so many things in recent times. Kerala saw coach David James was shown the door and the ‘professor’ Nelo Vingada taking the charge. ATK have been the busiest side in the transfer window in order to make it to the top four.

In the end, all we had was a disappointment as both teams shared spoils. The match ended 1-1 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, which saw a poor turnout for the third successive match.

After a see-saw battle, ATK broke the deadlock in the 85th minute through a brilliantly taken free-kick from Edu Garcia, their new signing. Kerala equalised a couple of minutes later, thanks to an own goal by Gerson Viera.

Both teams remained on the same position in the league table. ATK are sixth with 17 points from 13 matches, whereas Kerala have accumulated 10 points from as many matches.

Let us look at the talking points of the game:

#5 Kerala look more compact side

Kerala looked like a different side [Image: ISL]
Kerala looked like a different side [Image: ISL]

Kerala Blasters were a depleted side under David James. There was no understanding between the players on the field and that is why they looked clueless most of the times.

One of main challenge that new coach Nelo Vingada faced was to reunite the side that is lacking confidence. Going by the first match, he has done that but there is more room for improvement.

Kerala won their away match against ATK and thereafter, their performance went downhill. However, they looked more confident at their home, giving assurance to the fans that all is not lost.

Kerala’s approach has been, change. They have plagued by some wrong team selection this time. Especially their foreigners never found the rhythm that was expected from them. They didn’t buy a player in the January transfer window either, probably keeping in mind their league table standings.

However, the old guards looked fresh against ATK. Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic, who invited most of the criticism, performed much better, probably their best this season, against ATK.

A win eluded them, but with this kind of display, Kerala can finish in a much respectable position.

#4 Including Uche in the first XI was a bad call from Coppell

Uche (R) failed to perform [Image: ISL]
Uche (R) failed to perform [Image: ISL]

When you are sitting in the sixth position of the league table and only six matches left, you should go for a kill in every match. ATK, missing key players, failed to do that.

ATK have benefited the most during the January transfer window. Acquiring players like Edu Garcia and Pritam Kotal speaks its worth. Also, they loaned in Emiliano Alfaro from FC Pune City last December.

Having some of the best players of the league, ATK are still lacking the killer approach. They are a side doesn’t concede too many goals, but doesn’t score too many either. 11 goals in 13 matches means they are only team in this campaign to score less than one goal per match.

The reason for is the lack of quality strikers. Uche spent most of the time warming the bench. Alfaro got injured in the training session without playing a match. Short term filler Eli Babalj didn’t look like he can ever score a goal. The ploy to use Everton Santos, Balwant Singh or Komal Thatal in upfront didn’t help Coppell either.

But still, Coppell should’ve introduced either Santos or Balwant as a striker. At least they could’ve held the ball for some time to put pressure on the opponent.

#3 Both teams lacked in attacking third

Kerala missed plenty of chances before equalising [Image: ISL]
Kerala missed plenty of chances before equalising [Image: ISL]

The match was evenly poised till the 85th minute. Both the teams created numerous chances but failed to put the efforts into the back of the net. It was because both the teams lacked in attacking third.

In the third minute, Poplatnik found himself in a favourable position to head the ball home. However, his effort was saved by the goalkeeper. Seimilen Doungel, probably Kerala’s best player the field, created numerous chances and could’ve scored at least twice. But all his efforts went wide. Probably due to some urge that they got the equaliser late in the game.

Like Doungel, Garcia was doing the same role on the other side. He was also helped by Hitesh Sharma and Jayesh Rane’s incisive runs but nothing produced a goal. Uche was meandering around and never found enough confidence to put the ball into the back of the net.

ATK was more concentrated on their defence and ensuring to defend every ball.

#2 Day of goalkeeping excellence

Dheeraj was in terrific form against ATK (Image: ISL)
Dheeraj was in terrific form against ATK (Image: ISL)

There may be huge gap in terms of age and experience between Arindam Bhattacharya and Dheeraj Singh. But on Friday, both of them stole the limelight with superlative saves from either ends.

Arindam came into action in the 3rd minute when he saved a great header off Poplatnik. He was taking no chances even on those shots which were off the target. But his best save on the night came on 62nd minute.

Len’s cross was brought down by Prasanth and Bhattacharya stretched his hand wide to save the first time shot off Poplatnik. He was guarded by Andre Bikey but still make the assumption to go into the line of the ball.

On the other hand, Dheeraj made his first real save just before the half time whistle. Jayesh passed the ball to Garcia, who took a touch and turned around quickly to unleash a shot into the top corner. Dheeraj flew like a bird to parry the ball away.

#1 Garcia proves his worth on ATK debut

Garcia celebrates after scoring the goal [Image: ISL]
Garcia celebrates after scoring the goal [Image: ISL]

ATK signed Edu Garcia in the January window to end their goal-scoring problem and in his debut match for the team, the Spaniard proved he is here to stay. He also scored on his debut for Bengaluru FC season.

In the absence of Manuel Lanzarote, Garcia was handed the start. He was doing exactly what Lanzote used to do on the field – creating opportunities, taking the set-pieces, feeding balls to his teammates and taking shots on his own.

He was an ever-present figure on the field. Whenever ATK players had the ball on their feet, they tried to pass it on to Garcia, who tried to make the most of the opportunity. He constantly switched flanks to put pressure on the opponents.

His proved his talent with a clever from the free-kick. Most of the players would try to shoot it over the wall into the top corner from that distance. But Garcia opted for a low shot which bamboozled Dheeraj Singh before going into the net.

Once Lanzarote comes out of suspension, it needs to be seen where Coppell fields him.

Also Read: ISL Schedule | ISL Results | ISL Points table

Edited by Kingshuk Kusari


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