Kerala Blasters needed nothing less than a victory against bottom club Odisha FC to keep their slim hopes of qualifying for the Indian Super League semi-finals alive. Against a team that had only scored 16 goals in as many games, all coach Kibu Vicuna would have hoped for is that his attack would create enough chances to outscore their opponents.
The Blasters did that emphatically ending the evening with 23 attempts, the most by any team in an ISL game this season. Yet, the game ended 2-2, virtually ending the Kerala Blasters’ chances of making it to the semi-finals for the first time since 2016.
Once again, frustration was the overwhelming emotion after a Kerala Blasters game that they wondered how they had not won.
“We wanted to win the match and get the points. We were the much better team in both halves. We had too many chances but scored only two goals. It’s difficult to digest this situation. For me, it is unbelievable that we didn’t win,” said Vicuna who seemed resigned to his team’s fate.
The Blasters to their credit came back from a goal down to turn the game around in their favour, only to lose it again. It has been the story of their season.
No team has lost more points from winning positions than Kerala Blasters. In fact, no team comes close to the Blasters’ tally.
Points dropped from winning position
|Teams||Points dropped from winning position|
|SC East Bengal||7|
|ATK Mohun Bagan||4|
|Mumbai City FC||4|
The Blasters were so poor at holding the lead that even if they had saved half of the points they dropped despite being in a winning position in games, which is also the tally dropped by the next worse team in this aspect (Bengaluru FC), the Blasters would be sitting in third place, two points clear of the chasing pack.
The forwards missing chances is a reason for the Blasters not closing off games, but the fragile defence is a larger problem.
“We were playing offensive football and creating many chances but we had the same problem of balance [between attack and defence] against Odisha. We are conceding too much. It is not possible to concede two goals in every game because it is difficult to score goals as well,” Vicuna said after the game.
The Blasters have the worst defence this season having conceded 29 goals, two more than Odisha FC who have seven fewer points than the Blasters. If you compare it with the current teams occupying the semi-final spots, the Blasters have conceded ten more than FC Goa who have the worse record among those teams.
Coach Vicuna can take a part of the blame for the lack of defensive solidity as he made too many changes too often. In the entire season, the Spaniard hasn’t named the same backline in consecutive games so far and even fielded players out of position. Jeakson Singh, who is primarily a midfielder seemed out of sorts playing in defence against Odisha on Thursday.
At the other end, things were a lot better for the Blasters who created chances at will but failed to put them in the back of the net.
The Blasters have so far recorded the most shots in the ISL and are the join-third highest scorers in the league. However, the number could have been a lot bigger had the forwards shown a better ability to finish.
The Blasters have the third-worst conversion rate in the league.
Conversion rate of ISL teams (2020-'21)
|Team||Shots per goal scored|
|SC East Bengal||10.5|
|ATK Mohun Bagan||8.63|
|Mumbai City FC||7.84|
Vicuna came in with a big reputation having helped Mohun Bagan win the I-League while playing an attractive brand of football. While his Kerala Blasters showed more than a glimpse of that throughout the season, the lack of efficiency at either end left a sour taste in the mouths of the fans who have over the years grown tired of the club’s failure to mount a title challenge.
To be fair to the Spaniard, he had a big job on the hands as Blasters completely overhauled their squad ahead of the new season adding 17 new players.
With virtually no pre-season and players starting the season on the back of a big break due to the coronavirus pandemic, Vicuna found it hard to get the team to play his style of football and produce results at the same time. The team got better as the season progressed, but by then the team was already playing catch-up and were devoid of the necessary confidence to mount a comeback.
The Spaniard maybe deserves another crack at making the Kerala Blasters great again, but at a club that have changed more managers than any team in the league, he can be pardoned for feeling a bit nervous.
Watch highlights of Kerala Blasters’ game against Odisha FC below:
Watch coach Kibu Vicuna’s full post-match press conference below: