The Southerners will be looking to continue their giant-killing in the upcoming edition.
Gokulam Kerala made their debut in the I-League last season after their corporate bid got approved. The Southerners did not start well in the league as they succumbed to defeats, and injuries to key players meant that they could not field their best XI.
The South Indian finished at the seventh place last season
However, after releasing some foreign players and signing others, Gokulam Kerala, under the tutelage of coach Bino George, turned the tide. Eventual champions Minerva Punjab, Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan were among those teams who fell prey to Gokulam Kerala’s scintillating football.
Last Season’s Performance
Gokulam Kerala finished 7th last season and missed out a direct qualification to the Super Cup. However, the Southerners defeated Indian Super League outfit Northeast United FC in the qualifier but were sent home by Bengaluru FC who made a comeback victory, 2-1, to ease into the quarter-final.
As aforesaid, Gokulam Kerala did not have a good start to their I-League campaign. They suffered from defeats and had to release foreign players like Khaled Al Saleh, Kamo Bayi, who was a part of the Aizawl squad that won the I-League in 2017.
However, the inclusion of Ugandan defensive midfielder Mudde Musa and striker Henry Kisekka proved to be crucial for the Kerala-based outfit as they went onto upset top teams in the league. Musa, who is set to captain the side in the upcoming edition, dictated the play and controlled the tempo for the Sree Gokulam Group-owned club from the middle of the park. Whereas, Kisekka scored crucial goals and made Gokulam Kerala a force to reckon.
Gokulam Kerala played in the AWES Cup, but the result did not go the way the Malabarians might have wanted as they failed to secure a spot in the semi-finals of the competition. In their first game, ONGC trounced the I-League as they registered a comfortable 4-1 victory.
In their next game, they were held by Sporting Goa, while they managed a big win against SESA FA, they could not qualify to the semi-finals as Sporting Club went on to become the eventual champions.
Gokulam could be a force to reckon this season
They also played against Bengaluru FC in a friendly, which they lost 4-1, courtesy of a hat-trick from Miku and one goal from skipper Sunil Chhetri. Kerala also played against Pune City and displayed fighting spirit, but lost the game 3-2.
After the Super Cup, Spanish coach Fernando Valera was appointed as the coach of Gokulam Kerala. Bino George, who was at the helm of the club during the 2017-18 campaign, took the role of the Technical Director.
However, Gokulam Kerala and Fernando Valera parted ways as the Spanish coach requested the club to release him due to some personal issues. The club decided to hand the role to Bino George and he will be aiming to do better than last season this time around.
Gokulam Kerala have made some shrewd business ahead of the season. They have signed former Kerala Blasters superstar Antonio German, who is a known figure in the Indian Football circuit. They have also signed Argentine defender Fabricio Ortiz, and Uzbekistan versatile player Evgeniy Kochnev.
They have also signed Arnab Das Sharma and Shibinraj to bolster their goalkeeping department. Former Kerala Blasters player Jishnu Balakrishnan has also joined the I-League outfit and will be eager to deliver strong outings and impress. They have also signed a few local talents who will be eager to showcase their talent against tougher oppositions.
Goalkeeper Bilal Khan who was rock solid between the sticks for Gokulam Kerala has joined another I-League outfit Real Kashmir FC, while Chennaiyin have added Nikhil Bernard to their roster. Henry Kisekka who impressed one and all with his incisive performance for the giant killers last season has joined Mohun Bagan.
Whereas, Northeast United have signed young defender Provot Lakra and midfielder Kivi Zhimomi. Last season’s captain Mohammed Irshad has joined the ranks of defending champions Minerva Punjab.
Mohamed Salah has also left Gokulam, while his future destination is not yet known.
Goalkeepers: Arnab Das, Shibin Raj, Ajmal Pa, Satyajit Bordoloi.
Defenders: Daniel Addo, Fabricio Ortiz, Monotosh Chaklader, Wungyanyg Muirang, Jestin George, Abishek Das, Evgeniy Kochnev, Deepak Kumar, Jishnu Balakrishnan, Shahbas Saleel.
Midfielders: Mudde Musa, Muhammed Rashid, Arjun Jayaraj, Mayakannan, Guilherme, Bijesh Balan, Usman Ashik, Rohit Mirza, Pritam Singh, Bodo, Salman K, Nasar PA, Gani Ahammed Nigam.
Forwards: Rajesh, Suhair VP, Antonio German.
Formation and Tactics
Captain Mudde Musa will play the role of a defensive midfielder
Bino George will likely field the squad in a 4-1-3-2 formation. Either Shibin Raj or Arnab Das will start for Gokulam Kerala between the sticks. Foreign recruits Daniel Addo and Argentine Fabricio Ortiz will likely ply their trade as central defenders. Abishek Das is likely to play on the left flank, while it could be Jishnu Balakrishnan who gets the nod on the right flank.
Captain Mudde Musa will play the role of a defensive midfielder for Gokulam Kerala. Last season, he threaded balls from the back to Gokulam Kerala attackers and is expected to continue the line this season. With added responsibilities and pressures, the man will be eager to perform better this season.
In the 3-man midfield, Arjun Jayaraj, Evgeniy Kochnev, Rashid are expected to start for Bino George’s side. Up front, Antonio German and VP Suhair will look to exploit the loopholes and help Gokulam Kerala register victories.
Gokulam Kerala have a strong defensive unit this time around. The duo of Daniel Addo and Fabricio Ortiz is expected to give Gokulam Kerala solidity in the central defence. Breaching past these two defenders will be a herculean task for the opponents.
Training session at the EMS Stadium
They also have decent backup options to fill in the defensive roles when regular starters get injured. Jishnu Balakrishna played as an RB for Gokulam in their game against SESA FA. His creativity and technique will likely help Gokulam make marauding runs down the flank. They also have proven attackers in the form of Antonio German, VP Suhair.
— Hero I-League (@ILeagueOfficial) October 12, 2018
For a complete list of all the fixtures, click here.
Players To Watch
Mudde Musa: Gokulam Kerala’s captain for this season, Ugandan midfielder Mudde Musa will have a pivotal role to play for the Kerala-based I-League outfit. He will have to give the defence additional support and will have to supply the balls to the attackers.
Arjun Jayaraj: Keralite impressed everyone with his performances for Gokulam Kerala last season. The midfielder who is known for his commanding ability had offers from a few clubs, but will ply his trade for Gokulam this season. He will be given the role to dictate the play for the Malabarians.
Antonio German: He needs no introduction. He played for Kerala in the second and third editions of Indian Super League and impressed. Quick and creative, German will be Gokulam’s lethal weapon up front. German has already made his intentions clear as he said he wants to become the topscorer of this league.
Even though Gokulam Kerala’s midfield has a crop of good Indian midfielders, the absence of a foreign midfield general could affect Gokulam Kerala’s hopes. Arjun Jayaraj, Bijesh Balan and Rashid are capable of spearheading Kerala’s movements but it remains to be seen what the end-product will be once they get into action against tougher sides.
What To Expect?
Coach Bino George has only got a little time to interact with the players. He will certainly need time to build the squad in the ways he wants. Gokulam Kerala will be looking to finish on a strong note this season and they have a squad capable of doing it.