Kerala Blasters aiming to replicate the same performance but with a better finish in ISL 2022-23￼
The runners-up of the previous season are returning to claim the glory which they missed out on shortly in the 2021-22 Indian Super League campaign. The Kochi-based outfit featured in the inaugural Grand Finale of this league and also went on to make two more final appearances later on but never got their hands on the trophy. ‘Parimatch News‘ brings an exhaustive analysis of Kerala Blasters for ISL 9.
Kerala authorities planned perfect preseason arrangements which benefited their main team and the reserve side as well. A full-fledged Blasters roster went on a UAE tour to toil against the top Emirati clubs and make preparations for the upcoming season under the glance of the head coach Ivan Vukomanovic. Meanwhile, the reserve side participated in the 2022 Durand Cup competition where they became the only team with the entire domestic roster to make it to the knockout round.
A look at last season’s performance
The league stage campaign of the ISL 2021-22 season for the Tuskers was an absolute rollercoaster ride where they booked their playoff ticket in the final gameweek. The Yellow Army kick-started the Season 8 campaign from the bottom of the standings after the completion of the opening matchday and took three more fixtures to register their first victory of the season. They found themselves at the top of the table when half of the league stage was consummated but also lost the rhythm very soon.
The Yellow and Blues somehow managed to outwit the competitors Mumbai and Bengaluru in order to stay among the final four. Then the Kochi-based outfit went on to ensure their third Grand Finale appearance after knocking down the Premiere winners Jamshedpur in the semi-final round. Manjappada were too close to the prestigious ISL trophy but the Boys in Yellow couldn’t hold their nerves in the decisive moments and lost the final battle through a penalty shootout.
New signings ahead of the 2022-23 ISL season
The Bosnian stalwart Enes Sipovic has been replaced by the 30-year-old Spaniard Victor Mongil in the central defense of the Blasters. Kerala will be the third destination for Mongil after being part of the ATK and Odisha rosters in the Indian top-flight league. The Real Valladolid graduate defender kick-started his career’s India chapter with the defunct ATK side and won the 2019-20 edition of the ISL in his debut season.
Another newest addition to the Blasters roster, the Ukrainian central midfielder Ivan Kalyuzhnyi’s current transfer market value of ₹3.33 crores is the second highest in the entire KBFC squad after Adrian Luna. The 24-year-old maestro is the chosen one to accompany Luna in the midfield and strengthen the department to the core. Kalyuzhnyi arrived in India having the experience of playing for the most successful Ukrainian Premier League club Dynamo Kyiv in the initial years of his professional football career.
The departure of the Bhutanese striker Chencho Gyeltshen made way for another AFC region player as the Australian Apostolos Giannou has been chosen to fill out the same void. Giannou is the 32-year-old Australian-Greek striker whose CV has a special mention of the two-year stint with the Super League 1 giant PAOK between 2011 to 2013. He will be accompanied by another Greek striker named Dimitrios Diamantakos who is a product of the youth system of Olympiacos.
Apart from the foreign signings, the arrival of the young forward Bidyashagar Singh from Bengaluru is the biggest one among all domestic additions. The 2020-21 I-League Golden Boot-winning Manipuri striker will be part of the Blasters camp on a season-long loan stint. Kerala has brought the two promising wingers Bryce Miranda and Sourav Mandal from the second-division outfit Churchill Brothers to provide them the grand exposure of ISL for the first time.
Predicted Starting XI
Prabhsukhan Singh Gill; Jessel Carneiro, Marko Leskovic, Victor Mongil, Nishu Kumar; Adrian Luna, Jeakson Singh, Harmanjot Khabra, Sahal Abdul Samad; Bidyashagar Singh, Apostolos Giannou
Having the 45-year-old gaffer Ivan Vukomanovic on the sidelines again will be a huge relief for the Blasters as the rumours of him parting ways with them were roaming around. Vukomanovic has been rewarded with a three-year contract extension after the impressive performance in the previous season, making him the first coach to extend his stay for more than a season at this club. His talent identification skills are something that benefitted Kerala the most as we have seen a sudden improvement of many promising domestic players under his regime.
The quality of the Indian contingent makes this roster a serious contender for the ISL Championship. The 21-year-old sturdy goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Singh who emerged as the first-choice option in the previous campaign will continue to don the role of Kerala’s guardian gloveman. The poster boy Sahal Abdul Samad was on top of his game when the Season 8 caravan got consummated and must be aiming to unleash his potential again in the ninth edition.
The Uruguayan attacking midfielder Adrian Luna is going to play the most vital role this season as Vukomanovic’s all strategy will be planned around him. The 30-year-old playmaker bagged six goals and seven assists in 23 appearances and became the highest goal contribution from the Kerala camp. He formed a deadly partnership with Sahal in the midfield previously as the duo is capable of breaching any defensive wall in the league.
The central defense duo of Enes Sipovic and Marko Leskovic worked out really well for the Blasters however, the questions are arising about whether the Croatian will be able to form a tuning with the newly arrived Victor Mongil or not. They couldn’t convince the top scorers of the previous season Alvaro Vazquez and Jorge Pereyra Diaz to stay with them for another season. Both of them have been replaced by fresh names but having two new faces in such crucial positions can be turned out the other way around.
The biggest challenge for Kerala in the 2022-23 season will be to break the curse which always triggers whenever they reach finals. The Men in Yellow and Blues have a track record of upsetting their fanbase whenever they’re considered to be the frontrunners in the title race. Hence it will be interesting to see how this unit manages to perform carrying the millions of hopes of Manjappada fans on their back.
Over the years, Kerala has been the most unpredictable club in the entire Indian Super League universe hence it is really difficult to predict the outcome of their upcoming season. The Blasters may plan the upcoming season in short targets and the ultimate aim of Vukomanovic and the company will be the security of the knockout qualification. History suggests that the Kochi-based outfit has always made it to the Final whenever they pass the league stage successfully.