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Indian Super League 2018‑19 Preview No 10: Kerala Blasters FC

kerala blasters fc image
Image Courtesy: Latestly.com

Kerala Blasters FC look to draw inspiration this 2018-19 Indian Super League season from head coach David James, who as a player-manager led them to the Indian Super League final in 2014.

Background

Kerala Blasters FC made it to the playoff finals of the Indian Super League in 2014 and 2016. That’s making it to the finals in two editions out of the four ISL seasons we’ve had so far. In 2014, they lost out to an injury-time goal and in 2016, they couldn’t get past a penalty shootout. ATK was their opponent on both these occasions.

Last season’s appointment of René Meulensteen, a former Manchester United first-team coach was supposed to be the game-changer for Kerala Blasters to finally win their first Indian Super League title. René endured a poor start to the season with one win in seven games and was relieved of his duties in January.

After sacking manager René Meulensteen midway through the 2017-18 season, Kerala Blasters had a bit of a resurgence with David James at the helm. However, the improved performances were too late into the season and they were not able to qualify for the playoffs.

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This season they will look to carry forward their good run towards the end of the season and make a more substantial impact. Their massive home support should give them a distinct advantage in the home games. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has had the highest average attendance across the ISL each season.

The Gaffer

The Liverpool and Portsmouth shot-stopper has the record for the fourth highest appearances in the English Premier League and is no stranger to the Indian Super League. In the first edition of the tournament held in 2014, he led Kerala Blasters to the finals as the player-manager.

Stepping in mid-season in January, he did a commendable job in getting Kerala to 6th position in the 2017-18 Indian Super League. This will be David James’ first full-time managerial position.

Players to Watch

Kerala Blasters squad looks strongest in defence. The Indian internationals Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Lalruatthara alongside Cyril Kali and Nemanja Lakic-Pesic give David James a lot of options in defence.

In midfield, they have signed Nikola Krcmarevic from Serbia. However, it remains to be seen if he is the kind of player than can transition defence into attack – Linkup play has been a big problem for Kerala Blasters last season.

Kerala Blasters have signed prolific Slovenian striker Matej Poplatnik from Triglav Kranj. He has scored 46 goals in 68 games for the Slovenian football club. They’ve also signed Serbian striker Slavisa Stojanovic and roped in Jithin MS whose performances helped Kerala lift the 2017-18 Santosh Trophy.

Conclusion

David James’ long-ball tactics were heavily criticised by Dimitar Berbatov and by a section of the fans.  With a clean slate and the chance to sign players and build his team, we could see a marked improvement in their style of play.

The resilience Kerala Blasters have shown in salvaging last season, their tremendous home support and a strong defence should make them a tough team to get points out of.

 

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