Kerala Blasters FC, a club whose prowess lies in their exceptional fan base, didn’t had a good time in the season gone by. Blasters finished runners up in the 2021-22 season but the consequent season was marked by the walkout they did against Bengaluru FC, whom they are going to face in this season’s opener.
Preseason preparations for the Blasters started off from Kochi where they played few matches after which they traveled to Kolkata for the Durand Cup. They where knocked out of the Durand Cup campaign this season in the group stage itself after losing out against their neighbors Gokulam Kerala FC, drawing against Bengaluru FC and a dominant solitary win against Indian Air Force. They lost against Punjab FC in a friendly after the tournament.
Kerala Blasters had a preseason tour in UAE for their preparations and faced off against three teams from the UAE First Division namely Al Wasl FC and Sharjah FC with a 6-0 loss and 2-1 win respectively and Pro League team Al Jazira Al Hamra in their last game which ended in a 2-0 win. They are set to face off against arch rivals Bengaluru FC on September 21st at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi.
What’s at stake?
Kerala Blasters made the most compelling impact in terms of social media influence, and stadium attendance for all the seasons in Indian Super League, regardless of the results they produced in each season. A club who are ranked 70th in the world in social media following will be a tough reckoning for all stakeholders who are involved with the club. This is one of the most significant pressure Kerala Blasters face in each of their season’s where expectations of the massive fan base will always be high which in turn puts the club and players under scrutiny all the time.
The season will be tough based on multiple key factors especially with the inclusion of I-League champions Punjab FC who are thriving to prove their way into the top of Indian football’s elite league competition. Apart from that, ISL will be having familiar faces as head coaches who has the history of clinching the ISL shield and winners trophy in the past including Spaniards Sergio Lobera and Carles Caudrat, which will be a tough ask for the team led by Ivan Vukomanovic. With the Serbian coach suspended for the first three games, assistant coach Frank Dauwan will be in charge of the team.
The summer transfer window just gone by is by far one of the best for Kerala Blasters in terms of bringing in high potential talents as well as experienced campaigners to their ranks ahead of a crucial season. There was some serious discussions about how Blasters will approach the transfer window especially after being fined Rs.4cr for breaching football rules in last season’s semi-final playoff game against Bengaluru FC.
But, surprisingly KBFC paved their own approach, a distinct and unique one, pulling strings to grab the signatures of their most important targets and then potential future stars. Karolys Skinkys, Sporting Director of KBFC, who is in charge of transfer activities, has managed to work in the given budget to bring in top targets to reinforce the team to the next level.
In’s: Sagolsem Bikash Singh, Jaushua Sotirio, Emmanuel Justine, Prabir Das, Naocha Singh, Lara Sharma, Pritam Kotal, Ishan Pandita, Freddy Lallawmawma, Aiban Dohling, Milos Drincic, Kwame Peprah, and Daisuke Sakai.
Out’s: Harmanjot Khabra, Muheet Shabir, Denechandra Meitei, Ayush Adhikari, Prabhsukhan Gill, Sahal Abdul Samad, Jessel Carneiro, Victor Mongil, Apostolos Giannou, Ivan Kaliyuzhni and Givson Singh, Nishu Kumar, Sagolsem Bikash Singh, Bijoy Varghese, Muhammad Ajsal, and Emmanuel Justine (Loan).
Kerala Blasters have received good amount of money in terms of transfer fee from the transfers of Sahal Abdul Samad, Prabhsukhan Gill and also a noteworthy wage reduction by releasing high salary players like Nishu Kumar. On the flip side, they have splashed more than decent money to land in Aiban Dohling and Pritam Kotal to their fortress. Apart from that, they have loaned out high potential prospects like Bikash, Bijoy to I-League clubs to gain more experience and match time.
One convincing point is the reduction in the average age of foreign players to 27.5 years and overall squad age to 24.9 years.
When compared to previous season, Kerala Blasters has massively improved their squad depth to an extend where they have multiple options in single position. Most importantly, many of their players possess the attribute of versatility in their playing style which allows the head coach to have serious options on the table to choose from which was the major lacking point for the last few seasons.
Additions of experienced campaigners like Pritam Kotal, Prabir Das, Aiban Dohling and Ishan Pandita will be monumental as season progresses. In terms of foreign contingent, players like Peprah, Milos and Daisuke are young with high potential. As things stand, defensive compartment packs the best firepower with midfield having numerous options to choose from including Luna, Daisuke, Rahul, Jeakson, Danish, Vibin and newly added Freddy.
On the attacking compartment, Dimitrios Diamantakos who racked up ten goals last season will play a vital role again for the Blasters. Apart from him, creative play-maker Adrian Luna, will definitely be the most important piece of puzzle for the team in yellow.
One of the foremost area Kerala Blasters are in urgent need to tackle is the lack of goal scoring or creative Indian winger. It is now persistently visible how Kerala Blasters struggle to find creative channels in the field apart from the combinations set by foreign players like Luna and Dimitrios especially with the departure of their star player Sahal Abdul Samad to Mohun Bagan.
Another area to improve is to find their way to finish off the key chances they create where goal conversion rate of the team in Yellow was 11% last season. It is to be seen how things could change with the addition of players like Ishan and Daisuke, while players like Rahul and Bryce Miranda should step up when needed.
Kerala Blasters FC Predicted Lineup
One youngster to watch out for
Mohammed Aimen, the 20-year-old winger has made his name in Kerala football fraternity with his exceptional skills to find the back of net with ease and creatively laying off chances for his teammates. Born in Lakshadweep, he along with his twin brother Azhar has made their way to the senior team of KBFC being part of the Yellow Army from the age of 15.
Aimen, who has featured in U15 and U18 categories for Blasters played in multiple tournaments like Kerala Premier League, Reliance Foundation League, Next Gen Cup and Durand Cup. Aimen has scored 5 goals and assisted two in the two editions of the Durand Cup. His potential earned him and Azhar a a three week training stint with Polish side Rakow Czestochowa last year.
Now that Sahal has left the team, it is an opportunity for him to find his way into the first eleven by slowly gaining playing time and eventually cementing his place in Ivan’s Kerala Blasters.
Another unknown talent who can establish himself as an underrated gem will be the new 22-year-old Ghanian winger forward Kwame Peprah. Peprah was picked from Ghanian local league who gradually found his place in African and European top tier league from where he is coming to India. It will be unpredictable how things could pan out for Blasters by picking the young forward but if things go well, it will be an explosive signing for the team from Kochi.
It is the third consecutive year for KBFC with Ivan Vukomanovic at the helm which makes expectations higher for the new season. The fans will want to see a lot of progress in the competition and reach higher positions than previous seasons. Considering all the facts, top four finish shouldn’t be a big ask and top six is a must for them.
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