ISL 2016: Kerala Blasters batter Delhi Dynamos with possession play, but settle for stifling draw - Firstpost
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ISL 2016: Kerala Blasters batter Delhi Dynamos with possession play, but settle for stifling draw


For a refresher course in the difference between a long ball and a long pass, one only needs to look at this clip. A long ball is a punt, more hopeful than definitive; a long pass, quite simply, is the kind that can be appreciated by Pep Guardiola and Tony Pulis alike. Which brings us perfectly to Josu Currais: A man who learnt his trade at the Barcelona academy, before shifting to Espanyol, on the other side of town. Currais, who currently plays for Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League (ISL), is a man who can understand this difference.

It took Kerala 225 minutes to get their first shot on target, and when it did, it came courtesy of that stretch limo of a pass by Currais. On the receiving end was Michael Chopra, who got everything right — well, not quite as right as Bergkamp did, but still, he got everything right. Unfortunately for him, so did Antonio Doblas. It was a great bit of football all round, and it lifted the fans no end.

Kerala Blasters and Delhi Dynamos players in action. PTI

Kerala Blasters and Delhi Dynamos players in action. PTI

In the end though, that was that. It would be their only shot on target, despite hogging possession, dominating midfield, and absolutely suffocating Delhi's main man Florent Malouda off the ball. This was an unbelievably dominant performance by the Blasters.

But looking at the statistics alone, you wouldn't know this. Stats would tell you Blasters just about edged possession, and had fewer shots than the visitors. But in truth, the home side did a lot more of the probing, pressing and charging in the game.

Blasters' coach Steve Coppell took a hard call, dropping Graham Stack to the bench, a change that gave him the option of adding another foreign player upfield — Michael Chopra. Chopra was playing in the hole, behind the strikers, Duckens Nazon and Antonio German, but was actually the only person of interest whenever the ball was played into the box.

It created a strange situation: Chopra was dropping deep and picking up stray balls before finding spaces that Nazon and German could run into. Unfortunately though, more often than not, their runs would see them cut in, and run into Delhi's swarm of defenders. If and when Kerala ventured wide to the flanks, there was always trouble in the Dyanmos' box. Unfortunately though, the only person there would be Chopra, looking stranded, surrounded and yet fashioning something to cheer.

Kerala kept at Delhi constantly, and apart from a 20-minute period in the first half, the visitors could hardly ever string together a series of passes with genuine interest. But in terms of actual chances created, there wasn't much.

Jhingan and Hengbart were a solid combination at the back for Kerala. This leaves Coppell with another headache. When Aaron Hughes does return, does the Irishman get dropped, or is he selected straightaway? If Hughes does start, one foreigner will have to be sacrificed. The simple choice would be to drop Azarack Mahamat and play Currais in midfield, but the Chadian was excellent on Sunday.

However, what this will do would speed up the Blasters' play. Currais isn't shy of the ball and is excellent with his feet. He can tiki taka and he can play that long pass. The main criticism Coppell will have of his team after this game will be about their lack of speed and intent in the final third. German was excellent with his first touch, often using it as a diversionary tactic to run away from defenders, but his second was more often than not abysmal. Kerven Belfort was much the same when he came for Nazon in the second half.

A football pitch, though it might seem otherwise, is enormous. Players like Chopra, Currais and Mehtab Hossain seem to know that. In the book Brilliant Orange, author David Winner writes of it as "One moment the pitch is crowded and narrow. Suddenly it is huge and wide…a miracle."

Unlike teams blessed with more fanciful playmakers, like Delhi with Malouda, or Chennaiyin of 2015 with Elano and Goa (with an all round attitude towards a more revolving attack), Kerala seem to lose options when they run around their opponents' box. They don't lack intent as much as they lack quality and vision around the box.

This is a problem several teams that insist on intricate build up play often face, especially against opponents like Delhi — who looked in the later stages like a proper Italian team, happy with a point, and happier if they could be presented with a single half chance to score, thank you very much.

The great tiki-taka Barcelona generation may be remembered forever as having changed modern football and brought it back, quite literally to the feet, but the truth is this: One of their most pivotal moments, a moment that sealed their legacy was built from a long pass from the right and a headed goal.

A quicker release from the back can guarantee them goals, or at the very least, more attempts at goal — we will not harp on that again and again. If not, then Michael Chopra will need to brush up on those diving skills.

First Published On : Oct 10, 2016 13:21 IST

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