Sahal Abdul Samad’s reinvented goalscoring prowess upfront

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Sahal Abdul Samad has been a relevation for Kerala Blasters FC this season. He is currently the second highest Indian goalscorer in the ISL 2021-22. He has scored 4 goals in the 9 Season 8 appearances he has made. Second only to Liston Colaco whose tally is at 5. Kerala Blasters are currently in the playoffs spot, thanks to every players performing their roles sincerely as a team.

Last season, Sahal was used as the Left Midfielder by the Ileague winning coach Kibu Vicuna. His heatmap from last season suggests that he was used as a typical wide midfielder.

Sahal Abdul Samad's ISL 20-21 heatmap
Sahal Abdul Samad’s ISL 2020-21 heatmap

This saw a relatively new ISL version of Sahal. As per the tactics, he was very much involved in the defensive duels down the left flank. His pressing work rate and defensive work helped his team in a lot of positive manners. He had the joint second highest number of possession won in the final third last season. His creativity also came handy as he registered the joint fifth highest number of key passes per game in the league, second highest in terms of Indians and most in the team. He registered a total of 3 assists in the 2020-21 tournament. Which was joint second highest for an Indian last time.

But what was turning out to be a huge setback for him and the team was his shooting. As a typical wide midfielder, he would often see himself in the shooting zones either by carrying the ball to the box or by staying in good areas when it’s a cross. But most of the time, he used to turn sitters into skiers. Sahal took the second most number of shots for the team in the league but ended up with zero goals to his name.

But this season has been something else for Sahal. The man who scored just 2 goals in his previous 51 games, has suddenly scored 4 goals in the 8 games. He started the eighth edition of ISL with a volley against ATK Mohun Bagan which also opened the scoring tally of his team. He then went into a four game goalless run before he scored in three back to back games against Mumbai City FC, Chennaiyin FC and Jamshedpur FC.

Ivan Vukomanovic has mostly used him as the Right Midfielder in his XI. When he plays as the Left Midfielder, he drifts in to the half space. Which is what a playmaking winger does. That isn’t the case on the other flank entirely. He operates as the typical winger who would sometimes stretch the backline. Shades of it have been seen in the goals he has scored in the league so far.

In the first goal (against ATK Mohun Bagan), Sahal chested down a Rahul KP cross to pull off a well-placed volley from the edge of the box. As a result of his movement, he got enough space to place a perfect volley to Amrinder’s left.

Sahal Abdul Samad's reinvented goalscoring prowess upfront IMG 20220104 222006 1
To receive the Rahul KP cross, Sahal placed himself at the edge of the box and clinically placed a volley past Amrinder’s left. [ISL YT]

His second goal of the season came against the defending champions and league leaders Mumbai City FC. Sahal once again opened the scoring for Kerala Blasters in this game. It was Adrian Luna’s ball behind the Mumbai City defence which was somehow put in by Jorge Pereyra Diaz. Sahal kept his position and once again smashed a fantastic right footed volley, against which Nawaz stood no chance.

Sahal Abdul Samad's reinvented goalscoring prowess upfront IMG 20220104 224146
Khabra made a darting run inside which involved the defender taking care of Sahal. All Sahal had to do was to maintain his position. The Diaz ball fell into him and he was thankful for it. [ISL YT]

His third of the season came against Chennaiyin FC, which was a rebound of his own shot. Vishal Kaith’s poor clearance fell to Alvaro Vasquez. Who played it to Sahal who was making a delicious run to Alvaro’s right. Alvaro played a good pass to his feet. Sahal placed it into the far corner but was blocked by Reagan. The rebound fell into his right foot and he placed it to the other side of his initial shot. Resulting in his third goal of the season.

Sahal Abdul Samad's reinvented goalscoring prowess upfront IMG 20220104 224858
Sahal made a run from the inside of Chennaiyin Left Back Jerry. Which provided Alvaro Vasquez a brilliant option to play the ball. [ISL YT]

The finish of his fourth goal was something similar. Alvaro Vasquez once again had a major involvement in this goal. He received the ball midway and brilliantly feinted a move past Peter Hartley. Sahal made some zig-zag movements to deceive the Left Back. He stayed wide of the defender once he sensed the intention of Vasquez. As he would probably have expected, Vasquez took the shot which Rehenesh blocked from his left. Sahal was right there in place and looked to put to it beneath the diving Rehenesh. It made significant contact with the keeper but it eventually found its way.

Sahal Abdul Samad's reinvented goalscoring prowess upfront IMG 20220104 225704
Once Sahal sensed Vasquez’s intention, he stuck himself wide of the defender to get himself ready for the rebound. Once again, good positioning sense displayed. [ISL YT]

Comparing his performances from this season to that of last season, his shooting has made a significant progress. Last season, he accumulated a summation of 2.51 xG from the 27 shots he took [Wyscout]. Ending up with 0 goals. This season, he has accumulated a summation of 1.93 xG from the 9 shots he has taken (till the Jamshedpur FC game). He has scored 4 goals off them. As per Sofascore, his shots on target to shots taken percentage is at 50% (means every second shot he takes is on target), which is more than the 5 times of last season where this number was below 10%. This comparison screams of how he has improved his shooting this season. Infact, he is among the best shooters in the league right now. Him playing as RM has provided him the better opportunities to take the direct right-footed shots from the favoured zones (as depicted through the pics) which has helped him in accumulating better quality chances (higher xG sums/per shots). Compared to him taking few extra touches to take the ball to his favoured right as the LM.

Sahal is one of the primary examples of how a shorter league hinders the progress of a player. He has displayed his potential since taking the field. The investment in the local boy seems to be benefitting the club. His last two seasons have been very fruitful in different manners. He was the most creative player for the team last season, he is currently the top goalscorer for Kerala Blasters FC in the league this season. The winger Sahal has yielded fruits for Ivan and co. in the scoring front. Now his consistency remains to be seen. As this is one of the common problems of the footballers India has.

Sahal must be making Igor Stimac think of how he is going to bring the best out of the league performers. Sahal recently scored his first goal in the senior national colours and hasn’t stopped since then. He continues that form in the ISL for Kerala Blasters now. He has always entertained his admirers in different ways. This entertainment should go on.

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