The most anticipated team of the season, Kerala Blasters are expected to not only keep their fans at the edge of their seat but any football fans for that matter with the sheer quality that they have both on and off the field. However, that won’t be enough to see them having a go at the title.
Performance last season
It was an anomaly what Kerala Blasters experienced last season. Having a semi-decent manager at the helm controlling a quality squad and a vociferous crowd behind them through thick and thin, a ninth-place finish could never be justified by the South Indian side. They lost seven of the 18 games they played in the league and drew nine matches, which came after the yellow army had kicked off their opening day campaign with a comprehensive win over two-time champions ATK. Hardly did the fans know then that their club would win just one more match following that glorious evening in the entire season.
Changing the whole squad wasn’t a feasible option mid-season, so the management decided to change the man at the helm quickly and that didn’t bring any change. What made the season all the more frustrating was their mediocrity in all the aspects. Unlike Chennaiyin FC or Delhi Dynamos, who couldn’t help but go on a losing streak as nothing went their way, the Blasters saw as many as nine draws that had trapped the fans in a stale vacuum by the time the season was half finished.
Hence, as soon as the season got over, they went all guns blazing during the transfer window where they not only got in some big stars but also a big name as their manager as well.
Filling the Gaps
As far as putting their finger on the leaks from last season is concerned, Kerala have done a great job giving everyone a hint of their financial muscle, which is easily amongst the top few of the Indian Super League. They have done that to such an extent that the question now needs to be asked that had David James got the same clutch of players during his stint, where the team would have finished last season.
However, the Englishman also did nothing to impress the investors something that the Dutchman has done so brilliantly in his last season in the ISL with NorthEast United. Hence, when Eelco Schattorie kept his demand of bringing of his general Bartholomew Ogbeche along with him, the Blasters couldn’t do much but agree.
The Blasters have also forged up their squad in other areas as well like getting in the likes of Mario Arques and Sergio Cidoncha in the midfield, who could really execute Schattorie’s philosophy to the core. Though getting them in meant that the side had to part ways with fan favourites like Nemaja Lakic-Pesic, Courage Pekuson, and others, the fans would be satiated seeing Gianni Zuiverloon and Jairo Rodriguez partnering Sandesh Jhingan at the back while Sahal Abdul Samad would be flanked by the likes of Halicharan Narzary and young Jeakson Singh Thounaojam.
Despite Kerala getting the manager and the players right in point, the thing which wasn’t in their hands was their fixtures. And as luck would have it, the yellow army has been pitted against two of the most difficult teams in the tournament in their first two matches itself – ATK and Mumbai City FC. Being a tactically astute manager, Schattorie would need time before his players got his playing style perfectly. And dynamic sides like ATK and Mumbai won’t be the ideal opponents to try out things.
Though Kerala would get their chance in the third and fourth games against Hyderabad and Odisha, it would be followed by games against defending champions Bengaluru FC and last season’s runner-up FC Goa. Quite unfortunately, the Blasters won’t be having an easy run of fixtures any time in the entire season, which only goes on to prove how well most of the ISL teams have become this time.
However, as far as finishing in the playoffs is concerned, Schattorie would be aiming to assure that quite early on in the second half of the season for the side would be facing the likes of Bengaluru FC, FC Goa, and Chennaiyin FC in their last five fixtures of the campaign.
Kerala Blasters would be the first such high-profile project for Schattorie, something that the Dutchman has been looking forward to since his Prayag United days back in 2012. But, despite Schattorie’s long-term acquaintance with Indian football, one cannot undermine the importance of more playing time. Even NEUFC had Schattorie had half a season as their assistant manager before he took charge of the club and guided them to the playoffs for the first time in history.
Hence, the Blasters would also need to have patience in the face of frustrating early results before the side gets transformed into a title-winning army. And the one thing that is for sure is that Blasters won’t be doing that next season. Schattorie’s recent call to the fans to stick with his squad through thick and thin is basically the manager telling them that despite all the decorations on the paper, for all of them to work in tandem would need time. However, we expect Blasters to have a winning streak in the mid-season in between somewhere after their scrappy start and before the injuries creep in at the later stages, and we are expecting the side to end up at a decent third in the end.