A poor defensive performance by the Men in Yellow allowed Baxter under pressure to find relief …
The story has been the same for Kerala Blasters since the 2016 season. The club haven’t even had a decent season in any of the campaigns since and their struggles were embodied against Odisha FC on Thursday.
The pathetic defense, which has been the hallmark of the Kerala Blasters lately, was there for everyone, as a struggling Odisha FC claimed their first win of the season after a 4-2 victory. It was almost a gift for Stuart Baxter who felt the pressure after an eight-game winless start to the season.
After nine matches this time around, the Kerala Blasters have the worst defensive record (17 goals). Coach Kibu Vicuna stressed that he had not been able to field a regular center-back duo due to injuries. However, that cannot be an excuse as they have been exposed by multiple teams in the current campaign.
In 63 ISL games since the departure of Steve Coppell, who guided them to the final in 2016, the club have only managed to win 13 games. They have had the likes of René Meulensteen, David James, Nelo Vingada, Eelco Schattorie and now Vicuna.
None of the coaches mentioned above have been able to instill confidence or produce consistent results for several reasons. For a club with a massive fan base, this is certainly a pathetic record and probably calls for some soul searching in terms of overall strategy.
Another puzzle for Blasters to solve is how to get the most out of Sahal Abdul Samad. The attacking midfielder was mostly kept on the bench by Schattorie for long stretches in the previous season. This summer, the India international signed a long-term deal that will keep him at the club until 2025, news which has been welcomed by staunch supporters of the club.
This season Vicuna has deployed Sahal to midfield three or left as part of the attacking trio, but it’s fair to say the player has struggled in both positions. In 366 minutes he has a pass to show – when he crossed the ball for Jeakson Singh to score an equalizer against East Bengal. Although he is in good positions, he has not been able to shoot the target or find his teammates in better positions.
Kerala Blasters hope Sahal gets the best of himself and uses the immense talent he has. It’s time for the midfielder to make his mark in a season the Blasters need inspiration.
Diego Mauricio’s inspired performance would be the highlight of Odisha FC. In many ways, Baxter will be a relieved man to see Mauricio put the Blasters’ defense to the sword. He was deployed in a role free from striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia and was a constant threat, as he has been since the start of the season.
Jacob Tratt was deployed as a right-back while Gaurav Bora, who played as a midfielder in the opening matches, returned to defense. The performance was much better in defense but belief in the team was the main difference.
Even after falling behind on an early goal, Odisha rallied well, Mauricio leading the charge. The Brazilian appeared everywhere and forced the equalizer before Steve Taylor scored another goal from a save, just as he did against Bengaluru FC in a previous match.
Mauricio then scored a few goals in the second half to put the nail in the coffin of Kerala. The Kerala defense just couldn’t handle it and it is evident that Stuart Baxter’s fortune this season will depend heavily on the performance of the Brazilian.