The Yellow Army will play their first game on the opening day against East Bengal.
Kerala Blasters FC look ready and geared up for the new edition of the Indian Super League (ISL). With only a few days for the league kick off, their fans desire nothing less than the trophy this season. The club had reached the finals last time but lost the title in the tiebreaker.
Kerala Blasters’ boss Ivan Vukomanović will perhaps face his toughest test of the season in the inaugural match when East Bengal visits the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on 7th October 2022. The Men in Yellow toppled East Bengal last season, but the Red and Gold Brigade will give a tough fight for a perfect ISL start and Stephen Constantine will hope to keep his side’s momentum up.
With Sahal Abdul Samad and Adrián Luna both in contention to start for Kerala Blasters, let’s have a look at how Kerala Blasters could line up in the upcoming ISL.
Goalkeeper: Prabhsukhan Singh Gill
Last season’s Golden Glove winner Prabhsukhan Singh Gill’s spot between the sticks is not under any threat. In fact, his status as No.1 appears even more solid.
With Albino Gomes leaving the club, the management extended the contract of veteran goalkeeper Karanjit Singh for a year, keeping him as a backup option for Gill.
At the club level, Prabhsukhan needs to outperform his last season’s exploits to receive regular call-ups to the national team, thereby gaining a solid spot in Igor Stimac’s system. With young Kerala goalkeeper, Sachin Suresh, slowly and steadily pushing up the rank, there might be competition in the future for Gill.
Right Back: Harmanjot Singh Khabra
The majority of the fans had some bizarre outlandish thoughts when they heard about the signing of Harmanjot Singh Khabra from their arch-rivals Bengaluru FC last season. His age was another drawback for the fans.
Khabra proved his critics wrong with a stellar performance in ISL 2021-22. He turned his negatives into positives. Khabra is a perfect example of the quote – ‘With age comes wisdom’. He utilized his experience on several heated occasions of the game. The 33-year-old became the trusted right-back for Ivan Vukamanovic. Under the Serbian, he started majority of the games.
However this season, Khabra’s position is under threat and will receive a lot of competition from Nishu Kumar. Nishu is one of the heavily-paid defenders in the squad and had been suffering injuries for the past two seasons. This time around, he’s eyeing an opportunity to prove his worth. So any dip in performance can cost Khabra his spot in the playing XI.
Centre Back: Marko Lešković
The 31-year-old Croatian defender was one of the fans’ favourites last season. The cool and calm headed defender emerged as the saviour for Kerala Blasters on multiple occasions. Leskovic’s heroics in the backline played an integral part in the Blasters’ journey to the finals last season.
He is a man who simply dominates battles in the air. He’s an integral cog in the Blasters’ contingent and his influential role within the team cannot be questioned.
The club added some Spanish flavour to the defence by signing Victor Mongil. The addition of Mongil probably won’t impose a threat on Leskovic’s spot in the playing XI unless an injury concern arises.
Centre Back: Hormipam Ruivah
Hormipam Ruivah was one of the findings of the tournament last season. His climb to the top league has been remarkably quick. Ever since he has gained a regular spot in the line-up, there has been no looking back for the 21-year-old.
His performance in the ISL earned him a national call-up in March. In the previous edition, he formed a solid defensive partnership with Marko Leskovic which undoubtedly remains as one of the best of ISL 2021-22.
Left Back: Jessel Carneiro
The Goan defender has been one of the late bloomers in the league. He made his debut for Kerala Blasters against ATK Mohun Bagan on 20 October 2019, with Blasters winning the match 2–1. Blasters had an ordinary season, but Jessel’s performances were one of the revelations during that season.
Jessel was bestowed with the armband last season, but was unfortunately forced to leave the pitch midway, owing to a shoulder injury which eventually ruled him out of ISL 2021-22. The left-back is expected to return to the line-up this season. Undoubtedly, his movement up and down the left flank will be crucial for the Blasters. Despite being a defender, Jessel is adept at taking free-kicks and is also famous for his pin-point crossing abilities.
Right Midfield: Sahal Abdul Samad
Local star Sahal Abdul Samad had a dream run last season. He scored six goals from the 21 games he played. He finished the league as the fourth highest Indian goal-scorer.
Naturally an attacking midfielder, Sahal established his versatility with his stellar performance as a winger last season. In the previous edition of the ISL, no other player in the squad was able to match the influence Sahal had on the flank.
This season, Sahal will receive a threat from new recruit Saurav Mandal who plays a similar role. Saurav had a pretty good pre-season and Ivan Vukamanovic will be happy about the growing competition within the squad.
Defensive Midfield: Jeakson Singh
India’s only FIFA World Cup goal-scorer Jeakson Singh has been consistent on the pitch ever since he joined the club. He along with Puitea formed the pivot in Blasters’ midfield last season. Fans and pundits consider Jeakson as the future midfield general of Kerala Blasters.
The 21-year-old plays the game at his own pace and is a calming presence in the middle of the park. His underrated passing ability is the crux of his game, and it is his quick thinking and accuracy that sets up many of Kerala Blasters’ counter-attacks.
Central Midfield: Ivan Kaliuzhnyi
Ivan Kaliuzhnyi is currently a loanee for the season from Ukrainian Premier League club Oleksandriya. The 24-year-old midfielder could be a charming presence in the heart of the midfield for Kerala Blasters.
Ivan had a pretty good pre-season and is one of the favourites to start in this position. His natural game style suits well in the pivot role, which looks set to be assigned.
In addition to cutting out attacks, he also has a penchant for going forward, a quality that can reap many rewards for the club.
Left Midfield: Adrián Luna
A man who has grown immensely into Kerala Blasters’ game plan is Uruguayan midfielder Adrián Luna. He started the season as club vice-captain and later replaced Jessel Carneiro as the skipper when the latter was out due to injury. Luna enjoyed six goals and seven assists in his maiden Blasters campaign.
Adrián Luna was also ranked high in tackles and ball recoveries in the previous edition. His contributions in both attack and defence helped him feature in Khel Now’s ISL 2021-22 Team of the Season.
It is hard to imagine a Kerala Blasters line-up without Luna.
Centre Forward: Bidyashagar Singh
Forward Bidyashagar Singh joined Bengaluru FC after a brilliant spell with TRAU FC in the I-League. Things didn’t go as planned for the Indian forward, as he faced heavy competition to get a place in the BFC XI. Kerala Blasters were looking for an Indian striker and grabbed this opportunity to sign Bidyashagar Singh on a loan deal.
The 24-year-old is currently the only well-rated Indian striker in the squad, so a spot in the starting line-up is a strong possibility.
Bidyashagar has proven his mentality, tricks, shooting strength and aerial ability in the I-League. But can he do it in the ISL? Time will answer.
Centre Forward: Dimitrios Diamantakos
Dimitrios Diamantakos was roped in by the club from Hajduk Split, a Croatian top division club. The 29-year-old is a pacey striker. He is technically gifted and has an eye for goal. His versatility and impressive work rate are other elements integral to his play.
Well, now arises a controversial question! Who will make it into the XI? Dimitrios Diamantakos or Apostolos Giannou?
Well, judging from the Kerala game plan, it is Dimitrios who takes the spot. Both have an incredible ability to score goals, but it is perhaps Dimitrios’ superior linking ability that makes him stand out.