Two Sides Of The Same Coin: Scoring a problem for Kerala as defending seems impeccable
Written by: Ali Shibil Roshan
The South Indian side have developed a solid defence, but the main problem lies in creating goalscoring chances.
The Manjappada were vociferous and strident until the 93rd minute when a 19-year-old attacker from Assam scored a belter of a goal for the visitors, Mumbai City FC, and rescued them from enduring another defeat - which would have been their second consecutive loss. What followed was a deep silence, just like a festive mood turned to grief as if someone had died. Captain Sandesh Jhingan lied in the ground as if he had been fired.
Jorge Costa, at the post-match ISL conference, was seemingly happy to earn a point from Kochi. David James did not hide his unhappiness. "What a... Disappointment!," the former Liverpool shot-stopper said. Kerala Blasters had just drawn a game they dominated for the most part, a game they were close to winning, a game they deserved to win, a game they could have won had not Pranjal Bhumij produced a moment of brilliance. But the Blasters were destined to share the spoil with Mumbai City FC.
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Watch: Kerala Blasters 1-1 Mumbai City
From their first two games in the ISL, it has been made clear that Kerala Blasters have an improved squad, and the team which David James has built have improved on all aspects when compared with their star-studded squad from last season. Scoring goals was a problem for the Southerners last season. At the attacking front, the team displayed poorly. This season, they have managed to act as a strong unit up front, but they still lack the incisiveness to score goals.
Kerala's defenders, though, have been impeccable and resolute at the back. Sandesh Jhingan and Co, even without Anas Edathodika and Frenchman Cyril Kali, have performed exceptionally well and were unlucky to concede a goal against Mumbai City FC. Jhingan, who donned the captain's Armband against the People's Republic of China, has been a commanding presence at the back along with Serbian lanky defender Nemanja Lakic Pesic. Youngsters Lalruatthara and Mohamad Rakip have been instrumental for David James' side on flanks. Another Serbian in the squad, Nikola Krcmarevic has done a decent job for Kerala Blasters so far in the league. He has executed his defensive midfielder role to perfection. He has managed to be an obstacle put upfront Kerala's defensive line, making it even tougher for opponents to get past.
These three players – Rakip, Lalruatthara, Krcmarevic – have made more touches than any other KBFC player. Rakip has made 127 touches, while it is 116 and 109 for Krcmarevic and Lalruatthara respectively. When it comes to passing, Krcmarevic has etched 97 passes, while Rakip made 73. Appreciable! Both Lalruatthara and Rakip have made 9 tackles from two games, while Holicharan Narzary has 7 to his name. Skipper Sandesh Jhingan has made 6 tackles. Winner of Last Season's Emerging Player Award, Lalruatthara has intercepted the ball on 4 occasions, whereas Sandesh Jhingan and Rakip have 2 to their names.
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Jhingan has been a commanding presence at the back
Captain Jhingan has so far made 17 clearances, while Rakip has produced 9 clearances. Defensively, Kerala Blasters have been the best. Rakip and Lalruatthara have performed solidly at the back, and have made some overlapping runs down the flanks. Jhingan and Pesic have completely secured the side, defensively. They have made it like an immovable object.
In the midfield, Len Doungel, Holicharan Narzary, Sahal and Slavisa started for Kerala Blasters in both fixtures. Sahal has been impressive, but his passing remains a lot to be desired. Len Doungel needs to be more clinical while finishing. Against Mumbai City FC, he scuffed two open opportunities which he could have duly converted. Meanwhile, Narzary has been among one of Kerala Blasters' best performers. His defensive contributions are commendable and he has been great while attacking. The pacy forward has been a frightening figure for the opponents as his marauding runs down the flanks caught the opponents off-guarded on numerous occasions.
Two of Kerala's foreign recruits, Slavisa and Matej have done well. They have dropped deep to collect balls and the chemistry between these two has helped the Kochi-based ISL outfit create confusions and make the opponents fragile. However, the end-product - ie; goals - has not come as expected. Even though Kerala Blasters' attackers were dominant in their first two games, they failed to keep that momentum once they get into the penalty box.
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Watch: ATK 0-2 Kerala Blasters
Kerala's first goal against ATK came after Slavisa attempted to make a shot from outside the box, which, after taking a slight deflection, fell to the path of Matej, who headed it past Arindam Bhattacharya. Their second goal came as Slavisa Stojanovic controlled a high ball impeccably and tricked a player or two and then delivered a curling shot, leaving the goalie hapless, again. Against Mumbai City FC, Kerala Blasters could only make two shots inside the penalty box. A pin-point diagonal ball from Mohamad Rakip found Holicharan Narzary at the edge of the penalty box, who threaded the ball to Len Doungel, but the former Northeast United forward miscued the opportunity as Amrinder saved. The second attempt eventually ended with a goal as Holicharan Narzary fired the ball past Amrinder.
However, Kerala Blasters need to be more clinical and incisive inside the penalty box. Their defenders, and of course, their midfielders have done a great job. It is up for the attackers to up their game and produce goals.
With action set to resume after 17, and Kerala's next game on 20th against Delhi Dynamos, it is expected that Prasanth K will make it into the squad and replace Len Doungel. Prasanth's presence will help Kerala make more blitz and deliver crosses. Even though Sahal has impressed, either Courage or Kizito will be a more commanding presence for Kerala in the middle of the park.