ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t – Kerala Blasters

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ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t – Kerala Blasters

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Subhayan Dutta

03/02/2019

Another season gone by and it ends on a similar note for Kerala Blasters as the side succumbed to nine draws and seven defeats under two managers to finish at a meekly ninth position. With Nelo Vingada already revamping the side, he would first need to recognize and cut away the dead weight.

If one was asked to predict where Kerala would finish at the start of the season with the then available squad, the bottom half of the table wouldn’t have been anyone’s guess. But, it happened, and that too with a manager at the helm who had acquainted himself with the rigours of the league in the previous season, and with also a staunch fan support that lasted almost half of the season.

Kerala ended their season with a 0-0 draw against NorthEast United in a game, where their opponents were down to 10 men within the first 30 minutes and they still couldn’t score a winner despite coming agonizingly close on certain occasions. And this exactly sums up Kerala’s 2019 season.

What Clicked

Kerala were the second lowest scoring side (18) in the league and conceded the third highest number of goals (28) in the 18 games that they played. Hence, it would be very safe to say that very few things went their way, and they were so less in number that it could actually be counted, namely  - Dheeraj Singh, Seiminlen Doungel, and of course Sahal Abdul Samad.

Standing at the back amidst the continuous changes in formations and hacking and chopping in the starting eleven, 18-year-old Dheeraj was given a host of responsibilities. However, if there was one thing the former Liverpool and Manchester City goalkeeper got right, it was trusting on Dheeraj. Coming from Indian Arrows, the Manipur youngster shocked everyone by pulling off a whopping 32 saves in 13 games and conceding 19 goals.

Samad has undeniably been one of the emerging players of the season. Starting as a defensive midfielder, the youngster was moved to the wings as well as an advanced role seeing his unparalleled stamina and vibrancy with the ball at his feet, And to be honest, his nimble footedness and vision looked more mature than most of his teammates and it looks to be just a matter of time before he breaks onto the scene. Vingada would like to keep him around.

Probably the only signing by Kerala Blasters that actually paid off was Doungel. The former Bengaluru FC and NorthEast United player is finally getting to his prime. He was directly involved in six goals scoring twice and assisting four times, and one of his strengths has been his direct approach - Doungel has taken 18 shots on target this season. If Vingada would want to assimilate a title contending team this season, he should look to get in players around these three.

What Didn’t

To put it simply and bluntly, David James wasn’t working. The Englishman had managed 12 games for Kerala and they hardly had the intent to kill things off, which reflects in the six draws that his side churned out in that phase. Going with either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1, James refused to change his tactics as and when required and his apparent fallout with some players, didn’t add to his cause as well. All this compounded with fans boycotting the home matches severely affected the morale and the 6-1 loss to Mumbai City was the final nail in the coffin. The first thing that Vingada did just after coming was changing the setup to an attacking 4-3-3, and although it had its own vulnerabilities the team looked in a place where they could express themselves.

Another mistake that James repeated was experimenting with players’ positions. Sandesh Jhingan was often seen being fielded on the right back, while Samad was fielded in the deep midfield despite the youngster showing his attributes in the attacking midfield time and again. With results not going their way, James even brought in Nikola Nikola Krcmarevic to aid him but kept the likes of Kizito Keziron and Courage Pekuson on the bench. The midfield duo started more regularly under Vingada and the result was a 2-2 draw against Bengaluru FC and a 3-0 victory over Chennaiyin City FC.

The failure of new signings was also a significant cause for Kerala’s poor season. While Slavisa Stojanovic and Matej Poplatnik ended as the club’s top scorers with a combined eight goals and two assists between them, it was a middling performance, to put it mildly. Zakeer Mundampara from Mumbai was an utter disappointment as his red card was enough to keep him out of James’ plans, while the likes of Anas Edathodika and Cyril Kali were below average defensively.

Next season is bound to see the squad undergo massive changes and it would be worth observing what Vingada gets in. The Portuguese international hasn’t been a new face in ISL as this is his second stint in India after a failed managerial campaign with NorthEast United back in 2016.

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