The Yellow Army has many issues to fix after a poor start to the season.
Kerala Blasters made a huge statement under Ivan Vukomanovic last year by reaching the final of the 2021-22 Indian Super League. Despite losing to Hyderabad FC in the final, there were signs of good things to come and promises ahead of the 2022-23 season. However, the current season has come down as a reality check for the Yellow Army, at least so far.
In the first five games of the ongoing ISL campaign, the club has only two wins and three losses. The squad is unable to keep up with the rest of the competition and the head coach must find a solution before things become much worse.
Having said that, it is easier said than done. With the nature of the ISL where any team can beat anyone, it is hard to predict which strategy would work. The best way forward for KBFC is to start inward and focus on strengthening areas that have shown weakness in the initial stages. Here is a look at some of the ways KBFC can plan its revamp in the forthcoming matches.
Reinforce the defence
The biggest area of concern for Kerala Blasters is the defensive department. Last year, KBFC were notoriously hard to score against, and Prabhuskhan Gill won the Golden Glove award for his seven clean sheets. They conceded only 24 goals (third-best) in 20 matches. In comparison, Kerala Blasters have conceded 10 goals in merely four games in the 2022-23 campaign, the worst record after four games for any team in the league (second worst after five games).
Ivan Vukomanovic must go back to the drawing board and work with his team to shut the doors on the opposition. Starting from the back has to be the first step towards improving the overall performance of the team. The centre-back pairing of Marko Leskovic and Victor Mongil still needs time to develop chemistry. Perhaps playing Hormipam Ruivah together with Leskovic would be a good start. These two played together against NEUFC and got a clean sheet for their efforts.
Prabhsukhan Gill’s form
The custodian was the difference-maker last season on several occasions. He kept seven clean sheets in the league and made a huge statement, cementing his place in the KBFC line-up. However, the 21-year-old is struggling to keep the ball out of the net this term.
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It is imperative for KBFC to have Gill in a good vein of form. The defence must do its job and Vukomanovic needs to instil confidence in one of the key players in his squad. Furthermore, Jeakson Singh and Lalthathanga Khawlhring (Puitea) must do all they can to provide ample cover to the defensive line which in turn relieves the pressure on both the defenders and the goalkeeper.
Rally behind Ivan Kaliuzhnyi
Ivan Kaliuzhynyi has shown incredible goal-scoring prowess for KBFC, scoring three goals in just four games. The ISL debutant has taken to the league and has excited fans whenever he is on the pitch.
The Ukrainian attacker needs a regular place in the starting line-up in order to help the club score more goals. Ivan Vukomanovic must relieve some of the responsibility of scoring goals and creating chances from Adrian Luna’s shoulders. While Dimitrios Diamantakos finds his feet in new surroundings (he scored against NEUFC), it would be a smarter tactic to rally behind Ivan who can perhaps play a more advanced role as a false No.9.
Play to their strength
Above all, Kerala Blasters must keep faith in their game plans and keep doing the right things on the pitch. Despite a topsy-turvy start, KBFC has shown glimpses of brilliance. The results have not gone their way because of errors in key areas and those can always be mended.
The biggest role here is of Ivan Vukomanovic, who must reinforce the confidence in his players, learn from the previous season and right the wrongs before the situation becomes too grim. Attacking with vigour and playing with aggression must be the way forward for the Yellow Army, a strategy that got them success last season multiple times. Apparently, this was the approach against the Highlanders and KBFC got a 3-0 win from the game.