It took Kerala Blasters FC 327 minutes to finally get the first goal of their ISL 2016 campaign. After three matches – two losses and a draw – one can safely say that Kerala have got rid of a couple of monkeys of their back.
However, Mumbai City FC were missing key players. While the injury to striker Diego Forlan and suspension for Pronay Halder was already known, coach Alexandre Guimaraes threw a curve ball before the start and rested left back Sena Ralte. Ralte’s performance against Atletico de Kolkata was immense as he was a threat both offensively and defensively.
Kerala started the game on the front foot. One aspect of Kerala’s play that has been pleasing to the eye, despite their results, is their ultra-attacking nature. They stuck to a 4-4-2 combination where the wingers are high up the field. And as if that wasn’t enough, Kerala Blasters decided to push their fullbacks further up the wings as well.
Mumbai lined up in the same 4-3-3 formation that did well for them in the 1-1 draw against Atletico de Kolkata, but often reverted to a 4-3-1-2 when Matias Defederico dropped deep and try to create something in the match.
But Mumbai’s unravelling can be traced to one point – the suspension of defensive midfielder Pronay Halder.
What Mumbai needed was a midfielder who could win the ball in the centre of the park for them and make that simple pass route to Matias or Leo Costa that could start the next wave of attack. In his absence, Mumbai conceded possession in the middle of the park and the first half stats of 61 percent possession to Kerala showed just how worrisome this was for Guimaraes.
The way Mumbai’s team is setup, it is the defensive midfielder that covers the fullbacks. But in the absence of Pronay, coach Guimaraes decided to push Leo Costa and newcomer Boithang Haokip wider. While this could also have been made in a bid to enlarge the playing area, it was actually seen as a move to help the fullbacks defensively.
All in all, Mumbai had nothing going for them offensively save a few moments where a counter would be on the cards. Their best chance came when Haitian Sony Norde dribbled past two men and took a shot at goal. But the resukting effort was cleared of the goal-line and the score remained in the favour of the Blasters.
While many people, especially Kerala Blasters FC fans, were happy with the performance of Michael Chopra, one can’t help but wonder why he starts regularly for his team. He was largely absent for parts of the game and his best moments came when he linked up play in the midfield. Even though it was Chopra who scored the winning goal – a simple tap in – one can’t help but wonder if this Kerala team would become potent upfront with the addition of a younger, fitter and overall better striker.
This insistence to play their marquee strikers might be the downfall for both teams in the long run. Haokip, when played through the middle, showed enough talent to warrant a place in the team. Similarly, new Kerala signing Antonio German looked like a player who could easily link up play and take the opportunities to score as well. There is no doubt that Michael Chopra is dedicated to the Kerala Blasters cause, but as it turns out, he might not be the best player for his role.