Comment: Kerala Blasters FC: A revamped side raring to go
The Blasters have looked a different unit after their first win against Mumbai City.
Kerala Blasters drew with FC Pune City 1-1 in an enterprising attacking display on a bright Monday night. For the team which languished at the bottom of the table last season, the two recent displays bode well for the fans. The Yellow Submarine defeated Mumbai City FC 1-0 from a Michael Chopra goal in the last match, and French defender Cedric Hengbart scored the fastest goal of Indian Super League 2016 against the Antonio Lopez Habas-coached side.
FC Pune City marquee player Mohamed Sissoko brought the scores on level terms in the 68th minute. The former Liverpool midfielder’s shot was deflected off Aaron Hughes, giving goalkeeper Sandip Nandy absolutely no chance. Even though it was a draw, the Blasters look a changed side since the last two games, playing with much-needed intensity and vigor.
The team which lost two and drew one of their first three games has earned four points in the last two matches and is looking to revamp their season. Steve Coppell looks a little more energized in the dug-out since the last two games and the change is evident on the pitch.
The change in personnel
With the return of captain and marquee player Hughes from international duty, the defence has showed impressive stability and confidence. With a foreign center-back pairing of Hengbart and Hughes, Steve Coppell has solved the Achilles Heel of this team, which leaked 27 goals last term and ended at the bottom of the league.
With Sandesh Jhingan returning to right-back and Josu Currais having the flair to run down the flanks on the left, Kerala now have two full-backs who are equally competent in defence as well as in going forward. Mehtab Hossain, arguably India’s best holding midfielder for a long time, sits just ahead of his back four and provides the much-needed cover, breaking opposition attacks from time-to-time and also linking up play deep in the opposition half.
Since the last two games, Hossain has played at a higher intensity and faster pace, which has added a new dimension to the Kerala Blasters game. With Chad international Azrack Mahamat playing as the defensive midfielder in the last two games, the team looks a lot safer with the imposing frame of the former Espanyol player.
Up ahead, Coppell had tried all four of his foreign strikers in the first three matches, garnering just one shot on target. From the match against Mumbai City FC, Coppell fielded Mohammad Rafi at the top of his attack, playing Kervens Belfort and Michael Chopra behind him on the left wing and No. 10 position respectively. Kerala won the match 1-0, their first win this ISL.
Steve Coppell had given too much weightage to the backline and the attack in the first three games, proven by the fact that all his foreigners were playing either in the attacking third or the defensive zone, and thus, the link-up play in transition was literally non-existent. Pratik Chaudhari was a safe right-back, but did not give too much attacking options to the team.
With Jhingan back to his favorite position and thriving and Mohammad Rafi getting into the team as the main striker, Coppell has given his creative foreign players the much-needed space in between the lines to play with the ball at their feet and that seems to be working well for the Sachin Tendulkar owned side.
The positional inter-changing between Hossain and Mahamat has also worked wonders for the team. With both of them sharing the load of defensive shielding, Mehtab has benefitted from the extra freedom given to him going ahead. The East Bengal midfielder even had two attempts on goal against FC Pune City, something which was unimaginable for the team in the first three games.
With Michael Chopra taking a lot of responsibility in the attacking third, his attacking teammates are feeding off well from him. Mohammad Rafique, a regular feature for the side, and Duckens Nazon both looked comfortable and linked well with the former Sunderland striker in the last game.
Steve Coppell has given his side the much-needed breath of fresh air and freedom, with players looking freer and with a lot more creative flair to their game-play. Michael Chopra and Mohammad Rafi have the backing of the coach and it is showing in the way the players are coming deep to co-ordinate game-play and create gaps in the opposition defences for other players to run behind.
The team has created innumerable chances in the last two games and look like a team capable in attack, a completely different scenario from what it was in the first three games. Thus, if things keep ticking for the Blasters, the team can very well emulate their journey from the inaugural season, when they reached the Final.
With last season’s top-scorer Antonio German looking a little off colour, attacking players like Kervens Belfort and Duckens Nazon need to step up their game and share the goal-scoring opportunities with Mohammad Rafi and Michael Chopra.
With time, the team looks to be getting better. It is inevitable to say that this side would get even better as they play more matches together and the Kerala faithful would have a lot more to cheer about in the days to come. Inarguably, the Blasters have the biggest fan-following in the country and the players would be hoping to serve their fans well with a creative and aggressive brand of football in the upcoming matches.
Editorial by Punit Tripathi Khel Now Correspondent from Delhi - A sports enthusiast. Freelance writer on football and cricket. A die-hard Manchester United follower. You can Follow him on twitter .
Published: Wed Oct 19, 2016 05:21 PM IST