The Blasters from Kochi seek to go one better than last season with a power-packed squad and a new manager.
Last Season’s Performance
The team from ‘God’s Own Country’ Kerala Blasters had an incredible season last time around as they finished the campaign as the runners-up.
Despite reaching the final, the Aaron Hughes commanded side failed to be consistent throughout the season. With their then think-thank under Steve Coppell, the team rebounded strongly to finish in the upper eschelons of the table after a disappointing first half of the campaign.
It was the rerturn of superstar striker CK Vineeth that proved the catalyst for the upswing in the Blasters’ fortunes as they rode on the crest of a wave until the defeat in the final to eventual champions ATK.
The Kochi based Indian Super League (ISL) outfit had their pre-season tour at the renowned Marbella Football Center in Malaga, Spain. Blasters played four matches during the pre-season and the squad stood almost indomitable, before Marbella FC trounced them in the final match.
The team kick-started their action in Spain by playing against Malaga based club Athletic de Coin, whom they beat 1-0, thanks to a goal by Courage Pekuson. Despite stars like Wes Brown and Sandesh Jhingan turning out, Blasters were held to a draw in their second clash against Juventud Torremolinos.
CK Vineeth bagged a brace in the third match against Real Balompedica Linense, as the scoresheet read 2-0 in favour Blasters at the end of the 90 minutes. The team, which stood indomitable till then was trounced by Marbella in their final match of the Spanish jaunt, as the Segunda Division B side banged three past the Yellow Army.
Muelensteen will hope to make use of his vast European experience at the Blasters
Kerala Blasters signed Rene Meulensteen as their coach for the next two seasons and the new gaffer renowned for his time as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, comes holding good experience in managenent. The Dutchman will be looking to build on his predecessor’s good work and lead the team to their first ISL crown this season
Ins: Kerala Blasters retained the likes of versatile Indian international Sandesh Jhingan, clinical finisher CK Vineeth and Prasanth K and also brought Rino Anto and Sandeep Nandy to their depository.
Disparate from that of the previous seasons, the Blasters management has made some shrewd decisions to include renowned stars from Europe in their ranks, with the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, and Brown joining up with Meulensteen. The team has also brought Iain Hume to its arsenal as well as a few other youngsters like Nemanja Lakic Pesic, Mark Sifneos, Pekuson, all eager to make their mark.
In the domestic market, Blasters did some smart business, utilizing the knowledge of new assistant coach Thangboi Singto, as they bagged an Indian contingent with talented youngsters and experienced campaigners. The clubs armoury has the likes of India international Jackichand Singh, Lalruatthara and other players who have proved their worth in the recent editions of the league.
Outs: With only five players from the previous squad in the team, Blasters have a revamped side for this ISL. Former stars of the team like Mehtab Hossain and Kervens Belfort are plying their trade for new entrants Jamshedpur FC guided by Coppell, who will also be severely missed by the side unless Meulensteen can work his magic from the start.
The team will also miss the services of fan favourites like Josue Currais, Hughes, Cedric Hengbert, Duckens Nazon, Antonio German, Graham Stack and few others who are all not even playing in this tournament.
Formation and Tactics
Kerala Blasters have a thin Indian midfield and a lot will depend on Milan, Arata Izumi and Siam Hanghal
The Kerala Blasters have one of the most respected managers in the league, with former United coach Meulensteen playing the role of the driver. Known for using the 4-4-2 and the 4-5-1 system with aplomb, Blasters are set to use similar formations in twisted versions.
Jhingan and Lakic-Pesic can be expected to start in the heart of the defence, with Brown playing the screener. Anto is the certain right-back, a local favourite. Lalruatthara and Pritam Kumar Singh will vie for the left-back role. Singto’s stint at Shillong Lajong will help the assistant manager know both players well.
In the midfield, Berbatov, like he said, would partner the imperious Milan Singh. CK Vineeth will don the right winger’s role and the left wing will be deputised to talented winger Pekuson. ISL’s own legend Hume will play up ahead.
Unlike some of their recent squads, Blasters have an attractive team this time around. The Sachin Tendulkar co-owned ISL franchise has irresistible force upfront and immovable, still flexible defenders in the rearguard. In the attacking third, Blasters have given shape to one of the most lethal strikeforces of its kind, with the services of Hume, Berbatov, Vineeth and co-adding immense functional ability.
At the back, they have the services of some reliable, stern defenders like Brown, Jhingan, Lakic Pesic, Anto and others. The presence of India’s future captain, Jhingan has always aided the team and the robust defender will be looking to add another golden feather to his cap this time. While Brown, who once guarded the United defence will look to bring all his experience into play.
Kerala unites for Hero ISL 2017-18
Meulensteen has built a fine squad for the upcoming edition, but an area of concern is the team’s midfield. The Yellow Army has recruited only one foreign midfielder and the lack of a defensive midfielder like Hossain will also affect the flow of the team.
Kerala Blasters also lack the presence of a reliable warden between the sticks, which could cause the sinking of the ship. All experienced, though, the fitness of all can be questioned. With 42-year-old Sandeep Nandy, 36-year-old Paul Rachubka and 31-year-old Subhasish Roy Chowdhury their primary choices.
Top 3 Players To Watch
Sandesh Jhingan: A player who has been with the Yellow Army since its establishment, Sandesh Jhingan has grown with Blasters.
Jhingan has learned in scads from the likes of Hengbert and Hughes, which has helped him grow as the most indispensable figure of the Indian national team back four. A player with never-say-die attitude, his crunching tackles and aerial duals are second to none. His commanding ability and firmness at the back will once again provide Blasters with adequate support and stability
CK Vineeth: A clinical finisher, Vineeth was in-charge of Blasters’ attack last time around and was successful in demolishing the well-deployed defences of many teams with his rapid pace and clinical finishing. Vineeth was the hero for the Blasters in ISL 3 as his goals helped them advance to the final. With Berbatov and Hume in the squad, the striker will have to keep hammering in the goals to ensure his spot in the starting XI.
Iain Hume: The ISL’s all-time top scorer, Hume is back with the Yellow Army and is looking forward to bringing back the good times with the club. The striker has been with the league since its inaugural edition and has had an incredible journey since then. Hume is capable of ghosting into the box and his vigilant moves could become a herculean task for the defenders to thwart.
The forward was awarded the Hero of the Tournament in 2014 and will look to reclaim it once again in the yellow colours. The services of this proven goalscorer provides Blasters with the perfect poacher they are looking for.
Kerala Blasters’ schedule this season
What To Expect
Blasters were the phoenix bird of the third edition of the ISL. With the abundant impassioned fans to support them and the star-studded squad at their disposal, Blasters will be looking to seal their maiden ISL crown this season.