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Kerala Blasters have struggled in the final third and we try to find out why, with data collected by Opta….

With two points from their first five matches, Kerala Blasters are off to a poor and winless start in the 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) in Goa. 

While short pre-season due to the Coronavirus pandemic has had an impact in the preparations of all the clubs, Blasters are only one of three teams who are winless after the first five rounds. 

Kibu Vicuna has had issues in finding out his best starting lineup. Their main striker Gary Hooper, who replaced the club’s all-time topscorer Bartholomew Ogbeche, is yet to find his scoring boots from open play. In their own third, they have conceded 10 goals – no other team has let in more in five matches. 

Lack of chemistry

A lack of chemistry in the final third is evident. Of the five goals that Blasters have scored, only two have come from open play. In five games, Vicuna’s team has attempted 24 shots (least among all teams) out of which eight were on target (again, least among all teams), with a shooting accuracy of 33.3 per cent.

Sergio Cidoncha seemed to emerge as a key player in Vicuna’s system but his long-term injury does not bode well for the team’s attack. The midfield lacks a player who can unlock defences and be influential in getting the ball and passing it around higher up the field. Based on the data collected on December 14, only East Bengal had fewer touches in the opposition’s box (43) compared to Blasters’ 57. 

Kibu Vicuna, Bengaluru vs Kerala Blasters

Even from wide areas, there just has not been enough quality in the deliveries by the wingers and the full-backs. Only nine of their 59 attempted crosses have reached the intended target – that amounts to a meagre 15.3 per cent accuracy, placing them at the bottom half in the respective chart. 

Right-sided attack 

In Blasters’ games, they have predominantly used the right flank to attack the opposition except when they faced Chennaiyin. Their right flank has been occupied by multiple players so far, namely Ritwick Das, Rahul KP, Seityasen Singh and Facundo Pereyra. This also raises questions about the quality on the other side, where Nongdamba Naorem and Puitea have struggled to make a mark. 

Blasters have not attacked through the flanks more than they have through the centre and this is expected because of the type of striker they have brought in. Gary Hooper feeds on balls into the box and is a good poacher from inside the box. But has he done what is expected of him? 

Not so Super Hooper

Gary Hooper has had only six touches inside the opponents’ box in five matches. The table below shows a comparison with the other top strikers in the league after first five games. 

Striker Matches Touches in the opposition box (T) Touches in the box per game
Igor Angulo 5 26 5.2
Roy Krishna 5 23 4.6
Nerijus Valskis 5 21 4.2
Adam Le Fondre 5 20 4
Gary Hooper 5 6 1.2

While it is true that Hooper has not had the kind of service into the box that he may have hoped for, it doesn’t help that the English striker has not fitted into Kibu Vicuna’s system properly. There was not enough off-the-ball movement from the former Celtic forward until the Yellows’ last game where he was deployed slightly deeper behind Jordan Murray in a two-striker formation.

Hooper was heavily involved in the opening goal against Bengaluru when he dribbled more than half the field before assisting Rahul’s opening goal. It came from a quick counter-attack but it showed that Hooper’s presence and work rate need not be questioned – he just needs to do it more often and not be isolated for the rest of the game. 

Blasters have always been slow starters in ISL but they are off to their worst start this season. It is also the first time in their history that they have been winless after the first five matches. Vicuna has now had more than five days to work with the team to make the necessary corrections ahead of their sixth match against Robbie Fowler’s East Bengal who have also been terrible so far. Kerala simply have to go on a winning run to save the season. 

The stats used in this article are from Opta and recorded on December 14, 2020. 


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December 19, 2020
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