The southerners suffered two humiliating defeats but signs of development were on display in both of their games.
In the first international pre-season tournament to be held in India, Kerala Blasters played host to Melbourne City and Girona FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi. The Indian Super League outfit, though, did no wonders as they endured tragic results in both fixtures.
David James experimented with his squad in the tournament and provided ample time for some youngsters to make their mark. Kerala showed glimpses of their capabilities against top-class opponents, but that was not enough to put them in the driver’s seat.
Watch: The Toyota Yaris LaLiga World took place in Kochi, the home of Kerala Blasters
The Blasters played two games, conceded 11 goals, and failed to score any. Despite a disappointing result, the superior opponents made the result quite fair. Also, the players were affected with the usual fatigue and affliction that comes with pre-season tournaments.
Regardless of the result, some Blasters players did well in the tournament and punched above their weight against both Girona and Melbourne. Here, are three such players who stoodout from the rest in the pre-season tournament in Kochi.
3. Mohammed Rakip
Although, Rakip failed to make it to the list of 21 players who represented the nation at the FIFA U-17 World Cup last year, the youngster was a part of the squad that travelled across the globe and played against many foreign sides as part of the preparation for the tournament.
After signing with Kerala Blasters in December 2017, Rakip spent his time last season, training with the team. He also played for them in the Kerala Premier League (KPL), the top tier league in the southern state.
Rakip’s performance against Girona impressed everyone
The 18-year-old full-back, who is capable of playing ON both flanks, was employed as a left-back against La Liga side Girona. To many’s surprise, Rakip exhibited maturity and made crucial clearances and tackles. He did the best he could to thwart Girona’s attacks, which he, to an extent, succeeded at. He also displayed a tendency to take part in the attacking build-up.
Read Rakip’s story here: ‘I’m the embodiment of my father, who wanted to be a professional footballer’: Mohammad Rakip
Rakip certainly delivered an above average performance, if not extraordinary. However, there are areas where he still needs to improve, which were also evident. The player is not physically strong and when it comes to physical battles to get the better of the other, Rakip will likely lose out.
2. Keziron Kizito
Two games and 90 minutes, Ugandan midfielder Keziron Kizito was substituted at half-time in both games, against Girona and Melbourne City.
Kizito joined Kerala Blasters last season. The Ugandan made his debut for the team against FC Pune City and delivered an impressive performance. He suffered an injury while playing against Jamshedpur FC and was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
Kizito proved that he could be Kerala’s pivot in the ISL
Kizito, who primarily plies his trade as an attacking midfielder, was employed as a defensive midfielder in both games, a role which he executed in the best way he could. An imbalanced squad or a tactical masterstroke by David James? Call it whatever you like, until the reality unfolds in the Indian Super League.
In this tournament, Kizito was the only Kerala Blasters player who showed urgency to distribute the ball to the attackers. The former AFC Leopards playmaker did a commendable job defending and retrieving possession. Kizito supported his teammates while defending. He was there on both flanks as well as in the middle of the pitch to defend.
1. Prasanth Karuthadathkuni
The 21-year-old athlete-turned-footballer impressed for Kerala in the Toyota Yaris LaLiga World. The pacey youngster was a threatening figure for them on the flanks.
Following his impressive performances for Chennai City FC in the I-League, Blasters retained the services of this 21-year-old Calicut-born attacker for the 2017-18 season.
Prasanth’s blistering pace tested and outran defenders
Prasanth was a menacing presence against Melbourne City. Taking to the Australian outfit’s defenders with his incredible pace, his movements disturbed their defense but failed to produce results.
Although, Kerala could not score any goals in the tournament, the reality that there was only one Kerala player in the box, against four or five defenders, to vie for the ball should also be taken into consideration.
Prasanth has improved on a large scale after his stint with Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho, where he and Loken Meitei trained for a month. He was severely criticized by Kerala fans last season for his dismal performances, but he could be a revelation this season, if the progress continues.