The Serbian is the first head coach in the Tuskers’ history to renew his contract with the club.

Ivan Vukomanovic’s first ISL campaign was perhaps the best ever for Kerala Blasters. The Tuskers finished inside the top four, beat the Shield winners Jamshedpur FC in the semifinals and only missed out on the trophy after losing the finals on penalties. The Serbian believes his first season would only be the start of something grander, and so he signed a long-term contract with the Kochi based side.

While the club would like to continue the good work and push for the title in the next season of the ISL, Vukomanovic will have a lot of things to improve in the side.

Better start to the season

Kerala Blasters started their ISL 2021-22 campaign by dropping points in four of the first five games. They lost their opening game of the campaign 4-2 against ATK Mohun Bagan. The Tuskers also dropped points against NorthEast United and Bengaluru FC before finally getting their first win of the season by beating Odisha 2-1.

Ivan Vukomanovic’s men dropped points again and continued their inconsistent run of form until Matchday 10 when they finally broke into the top four and didn’t look back. For a team that wants to win the Shield next season, being in the below half of the table after the first five-seven matchdays is a crime.

So, Kerala Blasters need to begin their next season with a better run of form and shouldn’t have to chase others after they have played more than 25% of their league games.

A mentor for Prabhsukhan Singh Gill

Prabhsukhan Gill
Singh kept the most clean-sheets (7) in ISL 2021-22 (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Prabhsukhan Singh Gill was perhaps the best shot-stopper of the league in the 2021/22 season. The youngster was initially the second choice keeper, but a long term injury to Albino Gomes paved the way for the former U-17 Indian international into the starting XI.

Gill didn’t let Ivan Vukomanovic down through his shot-stopping skills or his movements inside the box. However, he could have done better with the distribution of the ball. For a league that has seen most teams starting to press the opponents very high in the attacking third, a team like Kerala Blasters would want its goalkeeper to do a lot better with the ball.

Not to mention that Prabhsukhan Singh Gill rarely acts as the sweeper. Although sometimes Albino Gomes failed while coming out of his box, he never shied from having to challenge the forwards through his ‘sweeping defensive actions’.

Lastly, Gill failed to save any penalties he faced in the final’s shootout. A mentor-like figure would do a lot of good to the Ludhiana born youngster.

Get more from the foreigners on the bench

Kerala’s camp has foreigners either in their attacking department or in the defence. Kerala usually started their games with Alvaro Vazquez, Jorge Diaz, Adrian Luna and Marko Leskovic as the four foreigners. The other non-Indians who played for them last season were Chencho Gyeltshen and Enes Sipovic.

The trinity of Vazquez, Pereyra Diaz and Luna performed exceptionally well. While the starting forwards did well, Chencho left his team wanting more output from him whenever he came on. In 18 league stage appearances, Chencho finished with just an assist.

Marko Leskovic was at the fulcrum of the Tuskers’ defence along with Ruivah Hormipam. So, Enes Sipovic was largely unused after Ivan Vukomanovic figured out his preferred backline. Kerala Blasters should get a lot more from the foreign alternatives they have on their bench next season.

Better Indian forwards

Rahim Ali
With his work ethic and 2 goals and assists each, Rahim Ali impressed everyone in ISL 2021-22 (Courtesy: ISL Media)

If Kerala Blasters are to let go of someone like Chencho Gyeltshen after losing Alvaro Vazquez to FC Goa, they should look for an Indian forward who could get into the starting XI. Kerala has Rahul KP, Anil Gaonkar, Prasanth K, Vincy Barretto and Sahal Abdul Samad as the Indian forwards.

Of them, Sahal is not even a forward. His role sees him play as a wide midfielder who has to make the right runs in the box. And the rest of them are either too young to compete with the foreigners. Also, signing an Indian forward would allow the Tuskers to bring in experienced foreign talents in the midfield and help the Indian youngsters grow.

Forwards like Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Seiminlen Doungel and Rahim Ali have been regulars for some of the best ISL teams. Signing someone like them or, to be specific, someone from them looks like the best move forward for Kerala.

Adding depth to their fullbacks options

Pritam Kotal
Kerala Blasters have been widely linked with ATKMB defender Pritam Kotal (Courtesy: ISL Media)

For many, Ivan Vukomanovic might already have a huge pool of fullbacks to choose from for its lineup. And it is not necessarily not true. They do have club captain Jessel Carneiro, Sanjeev Stalin, Nishu Kumar and Denechandra Meitei as the left-back options. And for the right side of the defence, they have Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Sandeep Singh.

However, when you compare the two flanks and the kind of players they have, the right side of the defence looks short not just in numbers, but also in quality. While the left flank has the right balance of youth and experience, the right flank lacks the explosiveness and work ethic of a young fullback.

As experienced and expert as a right-back Khabra is, he is already 34-years-old and will be 35 in the next season. And the only player that can allow him some rest is a makeshift right-back. Kerala Blasters need to find someone like Pritam Kotal or Laldinliana Renthlei who could offer as much as they do while pressing and in the offensive third for a long period of time.

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