Sahal Abdul Samad has played on the left flank four times this season for the Kerala Blasters…
Sahal Abdul Samad’s best is yet to come, Kerala Blasters boss Kibu Vicuna said at the 2021 kick-off. And going through the player’s performance so far, fans will be hoping he can do their best in the next few matches as Blasters look to a tough but not unlikely place in the top four.
The 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season is Sahal’s step to show the hype is real and he’s not a one-season wonder. He had a 2018-19 season under the direction of David James for which he won the AIFF and ISL Emerging Player of the Season awards.
Last season, only his second year at the top level, was a year to forget as the Malayali midfielder struggled to secure a first-team spot under Eelco Schattorie.
With Kibu Vicuna’s backing ahead of the season and the engaging style of play he promises, the scene is perfect for Sahal to shine. However, an injury forced him to spend time away from the roster for almost a month at the start of the season.
Sahal has managed to feature in seven (six starts) of the 11 games the Blasters have played this season and the numbers show he has been decent, but not the exceptional artist he promised to be.
A few points to note here is that first of all he had to recover from injury after a short preseason which is not an easy road. Second, he’s rarely played center this season, in a role he excelled in under David James. The 23-year-old has played four times on the left flank, twice on the right. The player attempted five crosses from the flanks but only once did he hit his target.
Sahal created the third most chances for the team, behind Facundo Pereyra and Jordan Murray. He was also the receiver on two big chances when he played but missed both.
The downside to Sahal’s play was always the lack of an end product at the end of his eye-catching dribbles. He attempted 29 dribbles in seven games, most of them by a Blasters player.
He also had 31 touches in the opponent’s box, only less than Murray’s total of 49. Despite these numbers, he still has an assist and no goals under his belt.
One of the problems was his finicky shot as well. Although not a designated striker, Sahal finds himself with a chance to shoot a lot of times during matches, but his efficiency has been very poor.
There is a glaring lack of polish in Sahal’s play that his former coach Schattorie spoke about more than once last season. There is no doubt about the player’s potential and the club have trusted him enough with a contract that runs until 2025.
It’s just about getting his confidence back and with a little help from his coach in positioning himself in the system, Sahal can be successful. And that’s vital for the team’s fight for the playoffs in the second half of the season.
All statistics used in this article are from Opta (Updated until the Kerala Blasters 1-1 draw against East Bengal on January 15)