The Blasters do not have a natural fit in the important position in the back four and the loophole could turn problematic over the course of the campaign.
After two seasons with Kerala Blasters in the ISL, 30-year-old Kerala-born right-back Rino Anto has returned back to Bengaluru FC and will add depth to their defence in the upcoming edition of the cash-rich league.
Whereas, Kerala Blasters have retained their best performers from last season and have signed a bunch of talented young players ahead of the new campaign. However with Anto gone, Blasters do not have a recognized right-back and it could become a headache for David James.
Nevertheless, Kerala Blasters have players who could play on the right flank as a full-back, but question marks over their efficacy remain as a concern for the team and their ardent fans. Let’s take a look at the list of defenders Kerala Blasters have and how the absence of a decent right-back option could make their back four unstable.
It is ironic that Blasters’ biggest weakness is in the same department as their biggest strength. The Southerners have Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Cyril Kali, Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Lalruatthara, Mohamad Rakip and Pritam Kumar as defenders. Among these players, Lalruatthara, Rakip, Jhingan and Anas are capable of playing on the right flank.
Sandesh Jhingan played as a right-back in the Toyota Yaris tournament against Melbourne City, but looked ill-fitted in the role
And, there is the rub. In the LaLiga World, Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika played the right-back role for David James side and looked ill-fitted. Anas and Jhingan sounded tenacious while defending and used their physicality well to thwart the opponents.
However, the role of a full-back in modern football is not only defending but also to make marauding runs down the flanks and delivering crosses into the penalty box. But, Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika looked less aggressive in the LaLiga World.
Jhingan and Anas are not adept at crossing the ball into the box. These two Indian Internationals show little tendency to go forward and are comfortable playing the “Defend, Tackle, Intercept” role.
Meanwhile, youngsters Mohamad Rakip and Lalruatthara can play on a multitude of positions, including on both flanks. While Lalruatthara was impressive for Kerala Blasters last season and won the ‘Emerging Player Award’, Mohamad Rakip delivered solid outings for Kerala in the LaLiga World. Against Bangkok United FC, Rakip played as a right-back for Kerala Blasters and did a commendable job.
How Could James Deploy The Defence?
David James is likely to field the squad with 4 defenders. Employing Jhingan or Anas as a full-back is highly unlikely to be effective if the sole aim is to produce positive results. Kerala Blasters’ French defender Cyril Kali is a versatile player who can play as a centre back or as a left-back. In the LaLiga World, Kali looked vulnerable when played on the left flank, but was more impressive and stubborn when featured at the heart of the defence.
Lalruatthara was impressive for Kerala Blasters last season and won the ‘Emerging Player Award’, and could play as a left-back
Rakip, Lalruatthara and Pritam Kumar are three viable options to fill in the left-back slot. Pritam does not sound like a decent option to be deployed on the left flank, while it is expected that either Rakip or Ruatthara would.
In the central defence, Anas Edathodika will miss a few games for Blasters. It expected that Jhingan and Kali would form the heart of the defence this season. Nemanja Lakic-Pesic is also a central defender but will, likely, make it into the squad as a substitute.
At the right-back, either Rakip or Ruatthara, again, would make the cut. However, once Anas Edathodika returns back from his suspension, David James will have to implement a system where the Kerala-born Indian International could play regularly.
An option is to field the squad with a 3-man defence – Sandesh Jhingan, Cyril Kali, Anas Edathodika – but it remains to be seen if James will go for it. If James goes for a 4-man defence, one among Anas Edathodika and Sandesh Jhingan will have to play at the right-back and the other will have to partner Cyril Kali in central defence.
If the latter is implemented, Kerala Blasters will find it difficult to attack through the right flank. They will need the help of a defensive midfielder – Kizito or Krcmarevic – to handle things well on the right side, which would make life easier for opponents to thrust into Kerala’s defensive third.
While the presence of a player equipped to play the centre-back role on the right flank would help Kerala defensively, the lack of proper ball supply to attackers also means Kerala Blasters would fail to utilize Prasanth’s – who is likely to play as a right midfielder -blistering pace and would struggle to execute counter-attacks properly.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen what David James has on his mind. Does he already have the solution to this problem? If not, what influence would it have on Kerala Blasters’ chances? Their first game, against ATK, shall answer these questions!