Kerala Blasters are on the right track – but fitness concerns could become a villain once again…
After four halves without a shot on target from open play, Blasters looked like an improved team for long period of Sunday’s Indian Super League (ISL) game. However, Kibu Vicuna still has some areas that need to be addressed.
From the first round of games, Chennaiyin looked the fittest team in the ISL and arguably showcased the best football on the field when they took on Jamshedpur. They were off to a quick start following kick-off in their first game and the same pattern was repeated.
Blasters survived early onslaught
Chennaiyin were off the blocks in no time. They raided the area in and around Kerala’s box and someone who watched the first few minutes of the game and left for reasons only known to them, would have to be forgiven for predicting a high-scoring final result.
It was Kerala fans’ “Ah, heck, here we go again’ meme moment. But after the initial push, Blasters slowly came into the game and started bossing the midfield.
Rohit Kumar did reasonably well in midfield alongside Sergio Cidoncha who was once again involved in most of the attacks that Blasters initiated from the centre.
In the absence of Vicente Gomez, who was not fit to be involved against Chennaiyin, and Sahal Abdul Samad, Cidoncha had to make stuff happen from a deeper role. Facundo Pereyra looked a bit rusty on his debut and Nongdamba Naorem has not been able to offer more than glimpses of his brilliant footwork here and there.
This once again meant that Gary Hooper was left isolated and without service up front for most of the match. He did manage to complete 14 passes (more than both Chennaiyin strikers who took the field) but couldn’t convert that into chances or goals.
After the match, Kibu said, “We expect goals from Gary. He needs time also to play with the team, to know the team. To know his teammates and for sure Gary is going to have a good season.” He will also be hoping the gap between the midfield and attack can be filled without sacrificing stability during transitions.
Cidoncha completed more passes than anybody else on the pitch – he is turning out to be a key player in Vicuna’s system. But without support from the right or the left, he sometimes ended up trying to do too much.
On one such occasion, he lost the ball and allowed Chennaiyin to counter. A hasty attempt at stopping the shot at the end of that counter-attack resulted in the Spaniard fouling Rafael Crivellaro and conceding a penalty.
From Zero to Hero?
Chennaiyin had two shots on target compared to Blasters’ one. Albino Gomes, who had more than one nervy moment in the first half, pulled off a very good save to his left to deny Jakub Sylvestr from the spot.
The Goan custodian still doesn’t look entirely convincing in goal but compared to last season’s goalkeeping woes, the situation is comparatively better.
It must be added that the defence once again did well as Costa Nhamaoinesu and Bakary Kone continued to remain a trusted wall in front of Gomes.
Key player crocked
Overall, there is a lot of work still to be done for Vicuna but there are enough positive signs to believe that they are on the right track.
Blasters are the first team to finish three games this season and maintaining the players’ fitness will be the biggest challenge for the former Mohun Bagan coach in the weeks to come.
Sergio Cidoncha is the latest player to pick up a knock – an ankle twist – and it is imperative that last season’s injury-hit scenario doesn’t occur again.