Kerala Blasters had to make multiple changes to their starting lineup but pulled off a remarkable victory against Hyderabad…
With key players such as Costa Nhamoinesu, Bakary Kone and Gary Hooper unavailable for selection due to injuries, Kibu Vicuna had a tough task in choosing the starting lineup for what was a must-win game considering the poor start to the season.
But he pulled it off and here’s how he did it. The defence that included a foreign centre-back partnership that wasn’t consistent was replaced by an all-Indian line featuring Abdul Hakku and Sandip Singh as centre-backs.
It was a big risk considering both of them were starting a game for the first time this season and in the case of Hakku, it was only his seventh start in four seasons due to injury issues. They were up against the likes of Aridane Santana but the riskiest move of the season so far from Vicuna paid off.
Hakku is the one who broke the deadlock in the first half from an accurate Facundo Pereyra corner-kick. He looked rusty at several instances in the game but had no trouble in heading the corner into the net in the 29th minute.
Both Hakku and Sandip managed to withstand the threat posed by the Hyderabad attack but there were enough warning signs that meant that the all-Indian defensive line could be punished against a stronger team.
Going into the game, only East Bengal had a worse defensive record in second halves than Kerala Blasters who had conceded eight goals after restarts. But Vicuna looked to have finally gotten his half-time team talk right as his side took control of the game in the second half and denied Hyderabad easy forays into their defensive third.
Jeakson Singh found starts hard to come by at the start of the season but proved his mettle once again in the midfield with an energetic display alongside Vicente Gomez. He scored a late equaliser for his team on his first start and then produced a stellar show in his second.
On the right flank, Rahul KP was involved in a fantastic duel with Akash Mishra and it was the Keralite who came on top with his direct runs and quick feet. Facundo Pereyra remained available for a pass and was happy to deliver balls into the box for Jordan Murray who looked more involved in the final third in one game than Gary Hooper did in all his games combined.
Sahal Abdul Samad also got a start – once again on the left-wing – and he showed why he should start more often but not on the flanks. He was happy to dribble past defenders but gave away the ball cheaply and did not possess the expected defensive work rate when the team did not have the ball.
Up next for Blasters is a big game against league leaders Mumbai City who have been phenomenal in all areas of the pitch. Given how a new-look team performed against Hyderabad, Kibu Vicuna has some decisions to make.