ISL 2016: Big defeat to Mumbai City FC hurts Kerala Blasters' goal difference, may hit play-off chances

If you wanted to be charitable about it, maybe out of respect for the professionals ploughing on the sidelines (Kerala sent out almost none to the pitch today), one could suggest this was just one odd occasion when the Blasters fell foul of Murphy's Law. You could even point to the referee, who awarded one yellow card in a game where tackles flew freely, as evidence to back up the absurd-day-at-the-office theory.

But that would be short sighted and only a fool (or fanatic) would buy it. The truth is that this miserable performance exposed some deeper problems in Kerala. Steve Coppell has lined his team up smartly and often solidly at the back. Often this has been to the detriment of offensive play, and dried up their 'F' column on the table. But at least they had an identity. They were a team who didn't score much, but conceded rarely, and frugally.

ISL 2016: Big defeat to Mumbai City FC hurts Kerala Blasters goal difference, may hit play-off chances

Mumbai City FC players celebrate a goal against Kerala Blasters. ISL

On Saturday against Mumbai, by contrast, they were a rabble without a cause. Or a team without any willingness to implement whatever plan they had. They were slow and ragged, and their body performance was not the sort of thing that should have been televised without prior warning.

That much was clear in the first five minutes, when Jhingan and Hengbart dithered, Jossu scampered randomly, allowing Chhetri and Forlan to combine, for the first of many. The second was a thing of beauty, a dialback to South Africa 2010, vuvuzelas and a football called the Jabulani.

There was slack defending preceding the Uruguayan's third too. In general, the Blasters misplaced too many passes, made few tackles and were outfought and out-thought. If Coppell thought the past two games and the success may have given him something to build on, this game has driven them a bit into the hole again. There is a serious danger of a resut like this train-rolling an otherwise average, but commendable and commited season.

Incessant mistakes from Jossu and Pratik Chowdhary could be attributed to: a) The constant shape-shifting demons that were Mumbai's midfield; b) A lack of cohesiveness because of the integration of new players (Rino Anto and Antoine German) ahead of them.

But more alarming was the fact that the Blasters didn't even bother finding out what they were supposed to be doing. Jossu surely isn't supposed to be randomly shifting to the right flank leaving the left to deal with its own problems. And German isn't going to end his scoreless streak playing in his own half. There were too many passengers in the Kerala team at Mumbai, and these they cannot keep on carrying.

The first thing to say is that if players are uncomfortable in their roles — as Rino Anto clearly was in the first half — they need to show the gumption to stick it out and fight. They have done that before, grinding out games they couldn't control and have done so unconvincingly but worthily early in the season.

If they could, they should look at Arsenal up against Manchester United at Old Trafford for example. The Gunners swooned, shuddered and looked nothing like themselves, but they ground out a point. They showed gumption where often there was none.

But Kerala meekly accepted Mumbai's dominance, and it raises questions about their personalities rather than toward team shape and selection. They edged possession and had more corners, but it was all wasted freely. In every other statistic, they were wanting.

They put in the kind of performance that may have been acceptable at the beginning of a managerial reign. But this is now a crucial part of the season, and this is an impatient league with special demands. Managers have to find ways of quickly getting the best out of an imperfect squad.

Coppell has done that. Embracing the modern way to win in football — look at how Leicester won the Premier League, how Portugal won the Euros, or even how the Blasters won against Mumbai City FC back home — he has been a stickler for a tight defence.

Mumbai have blown a planet-sized hole into Kerala's goal difference now and this could prove to be crucial when push comes to shove. The league is tightly balanced, and while the Blasters may yet conjure up the points (they have two extremely winnable home games coming up against FC Pune City and NorthEast United FC), this game could yet prove to be the difference.

There is a chance, for the first time, for almost every team to make the play-offs. FC Goa and NEUFC have arrested their downward spirals with a point each in their latest fixture; Chennaiyin are discovering theirs now; Atletico de Kolkata are regulars in the ISL play-offs and can probably cash in later despite looking laboured. Which essentially makes this almost a straight up shootout between Pune and Kerala. A game to watch at Kochi, the perfect stage for the home team to shrug off this sad-bad performance and lay down a serious marker for the season.

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Updated Date: Nov 20, 2016 12:02:12 IST

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