ISL 2020-21 Team Preview: Kerala Blasters looking to regain lost glory under Kibu Vicuna
Best Finish: Runners-up (2014, 2016)
Other Trophies: None
Head Coach: Kibu Vicuna
Kerala is considered as one of the main hubs of Indian football owing to the popularity of the game in the state and the sheer number of players the region has given to the country. However, Kerala Blasters -- the franchise representing the state in the top tier of Indian football – hasn’t been able to bring much success and happiness for the fans of late. Yes, they did reach the final of the Indian Super League twice in the first three years of the tournament but they haven’t even managed to make it to the playoffs as far as the last three seasons are concerned. So these are quite disappointing results for the fans who are so passionate about the game.
However, their fortunes could change massively this season as former Mohun Bagan coach Kibu Vicuna has taken charge of the team for the 2020-21 season. Vicuna led Bagan to the I-League title in his maiden season in Indian football and that’s why everyone will have high hopes from him this time as well. The Spaniard is a widely respected figure all over the world, having trained players like Cesar Azpillicueta, Nacho Monreal among others during their youth days. Moreover, the Blasters have acquired some top Indian and foreign players in the transfer window, and Vicuna will be looking to bring the best out of these players to lead them to glory.
How did Kerala Blasters fare in the last ISL season?
The 2019-20 season was a forgettable one for the Blasters. They looked primed for success with the signing of players like Bartholomew Ogbeche and Raphael Messi Bouli ahead of the season. The Blasters started on a bright note too, as they won their first match against ATK FC by a 2-1 margin. However, they went on a continuous downward spiral after that.
Injuries to two of their main defenders in Sandesh Jhingan and Jairo Rodrigues weakened their backline considerably. Not only that, other key players like Gianni Zuiverloon and Mario Arques also had to sit out for a major number of matches due to injuries. Such concerns with the fitness of their defenders and defensive midfielders saw them conceding 32 goals – the third-most among all teams in the league stage. They did quite well in offence with the duo of Ogbeche and Messi-Bouli firing on all cylinders but crucial goals conceded in the dying moments every time saw them bottling a lot of close encounters. As a result, they finished the season at the seventh spot with just four wins to their name in a total of 18 games.
How is the Kerala Blasters squad shaping up for this season?
The Blasters have lost some of their top players from last season like Ogbeche, Messi Bouli, Jhingan and Halicharan Narzary to other teams this time, but they have brought some equally good players to their ranks. More importantly, they have strengthened the defence a lot with the acquisition of Nishu Kumar from Bengaluru FC and the signing of former Olympique Lyon Centre-Back Bakary Kone.
Kumar was one of the best players from the left-back position in the last ISL season and he will be eager to come up with an equally good performance this time for his new club as well. Moreover, he is just 22 years old and that makes him a long-term prospect for the Blasters. Kone, on the other hand, has the experience of handling world-class strikers like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and others in Europe’s top tier football leagues. So his performance and fitness will be key to the Blasters’ success this season.
The Blasters have made some major additions in their offensive lines as well. On one hand, they have gone with the experience of former Norwich City forward Gary Hooper and on the other hand, they have decided to go with the flair of the 25-year-old Australian forward Jordan Murray. Their combination could do wonders for the team this season as Murray has the pace and Hooper has the eye for goals. Together, they can take down even the best of defences.
While these are their major signings, other notable acquisitions include that of two talented Indian midfielders in Rohit Kumar and Puitea from Hyderabad FC and NorthEast United FC respectively. The arrival of quality foreign midfielders like Vicente Gomez from Spain and Facundo Pereyra from Argentina also add depth to their squad.
Expectations from Kerala Blasters' 2020/21 season
Even though this is Kibu Vicuna’s first bid in the ISL, he has known the Indian football landscape for more than a year now. His success with Mohun Bagan right in his first season only goes on to highlight how quickly he adapts to a new environment. Not only that, he has the ability to bring the best out of the resources available to him as well. The roster that he has under him now consists of some very talented youngsters and veterans who have years of experience under their belt. The balance of youth and experience is there in this team and that’s one of the main things required to have a successful run in a competition as big as the ISL. Kerala Blasters haven’t had much success of late but this squad looks very much capable of making it to the playoffs, at least on paper.
Kerala Blasters' squad
Goalkeepers: Bilal Khan, Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Albino Gomes, Muheet Shabir
Defenders: Bakary Kone, Costa Nhamoinesu, Abdul Hakku, Nishu Kumar, Jessel Carneiro
Midfielders: Vicente Gomez, Rohit Kumar, Puitea, Ayush Adhikari, Seityasen Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Givson Singh, Arjun Jayaraj, Facundo Pereyra
Forwards: Rahul KP, Jordan Murray, Naorem Mahesh Singh