ISL 2017 Analysis | Kerala and Kolkata draw "noisy" season opener

ISL 2017 Analysis | Kerala and Kolkata draw "noisy" season opener

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In a replay of last season's final, there was very little to separate Kerala Blasters and Atletico de Kolkata who played out a goalless draw at the in Kochi in the season opener today. Zequinha came closest to breaking the deadlock but his curling effort from distance could only find the woodwork.

New season, same story 

The ISL as changed a lot in one year. Be it the change in the rule of the number of domestic players in the team or the inclusion of two new teams in the league, it’s a new world out there. But some things never change. Even though Kerala Blasters have managed to reach two ISL finals, losing both to ATK, they scored just 21 goals in 28 league games in those campaigns. They have always been a defensive unit and not even the signing of Dimitar Berbatov has changed their style of play. 

For most of the first half, the Blasters’ passing accuracy lingered at 35% which meant that there was hardly any supply for their star man. It wasn’t too hard to see why they struggled to put up numbers in the goals scored column. The ruggedness that was the cornerstone of their successful campaign is still there much like the Stoke City team under Tony Pulis. But just as Stoke had to change their style of play to something that was easier on the eye, the Blasters have to strive to entertain the crowds more.

It’s early days but Atletico’s midfield looks spectacular

Right from the get-go, it was evident that the team from Bengal was going to dominate proceedings over the course of 90 minutes. The partnership of Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Conor Thomas, in the centre of the park, looked as natural and beautiful as anything the ISL has ever witnessed. Not only do the duo possess the intelligence to control the tempo of the game, they also possess the technical abilities that the many midfielders lack in the Indian Super League. While the Indian completed 86% of his 63 passes and added 3 interceptions to his name, the Englishman completed 94% of his 69 passes with the same number of interceptions. 

The challenge that ATK faced was in their front four who, apart from Zequinha looked off the pace and struggled to create any real chances. While Njazi Kuqi, Rupert Nongrum, and Hitesh Sharma did a lot of running, there was hardly any end product through the middle. This resulted in the ball being switched from side to side where the blonde-haired duo of Keegan Pereira and Prabir Das attempted crosses that rarely troubled the Kerala defence. On the bright side though, Kolkata have Robbie Keane and Jayesh Rane to come in and the duo could play a big say in what the two-time Champions do in the final third for the rest of the season.

The Yellow Wall of East is a name well earned

 © ISL

For a state that has been deprived of football for a long time, Kerala are making the most of the opportunity that the ISL has gifted them. They might not have the same synchronization as the fan’s who share the same name, but their passion for the sport cannot be questioned. From the first minute to the last, the ground in Kochi was a cauldron of noise that not a lot of teams will be able to handle in the games to come. For long-suffering fans of Indian football, this noise is nothing short of a melody composed by Beethoven himself.

The Showstopper

One of the major reasons why they were able to make it all the way to the finals in 2014 and 2016 was the leadership of Cedric Hengbart at the heart of the defence. But with the 37-year-old deciding to play in Malta, there was a huge hole left in the Blasters’ defence. However, it appears that they have not only filled the position but have bettered it. While the Player of the Match, Nemanja Lakic Pesic, might not possess the passing abilities of Hegbart, he certainly has the edge on his predecessor in terms of pace. Had he not been on the pitch for the Men in Yellow, ATK could have had a field day in Kochi. With 4 blocks, 3 clearances, and 1 interception, Pesic found the perfect way to introduce himself to the Kerala faithful. The Jhinghan-Pesic partnership, much like the ATK midfield, could be instrumental in where they finish at the end of the season.

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