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Analyzing the 'remontada' Kerala Blasters pulled off against FC Goa

Kerala Blasters pulled off a historic comeback against FC Goa after going down two nil. Let's analyze how the Blasters pulled it off.

Analyzing the remontada Kerala Blasters pulled off against FC Goa

John Mathew

Updated: 26 Feb 2024 6:35 PM GMT

Kerala and Goa are considered two of India's biggest footballing hubs. So when two of the leagues finest locked horns and tusks, it was bound to be a cracker. But what was offered was something much more, maybe an ode to a 'carnival', maybe a glimpse of a 'pooram'; but football's own version of it.

Manjapadda's TIFO ahead of the game (Image via Kerala Blasters on X)

Even with all the adorned grandeur, everyone knew the real situation was much more stale. Both sides were going through blips and both had dropped atleast 7 points in their last 3 games. It was probably the best time for both sides to face each other, but Kochi is always an advantage for the Blasters and it was on Goa to beat that.

Manolo's side were shook with injuries but that's no news; although Brandon's absence was. The charismatic midfielder missed out on the game down south getting unwell on the morning of the match-day. A blow nonetheless, yet Manolo's line-up was strong.

Ivan's side had a lot to answer at home. The first answer was in the form of skipper Dimi Diamantakos returning to the line-up. While Goa's captain had to sit out, Kerala's captain donned the armband after a matches break. The return of stalwart Vibin was also taken with joyful eyes. Pritam's absence also brought up mixed reactions.

The last time Blasters scored 4 in an ISL game was back in 2022, against the same foe on the day. In a game that then went from 2-0 to to 4-2 to 4-4 in 90 minutes, such a game should've been expected. But surprises are always fun, both in life and in sports.

Goa started strong, managing more than 70% of the ball in the first 10 minutes, forcing Kerala into defensive mode from the get go. Kerala had shown their intent though, with Fedor x Dimi combo finding the first shot of the game; a close shave, rustling the outside of the net.

But what matters is what crosses the goal-line, and that was Goa. Maybe the directors handed out the same script of the game at Goa to the teams, because it was Deja Vu in its full flow. Goa scoring against Kerala, from a set-piece, through Rowllin Borges. Second shot of the game for the Goans and a neat finish, but the defending from Kerala, from a set-piece was dubious once again.

Goa taking the lead at 1-0

To be frank, this set-up seemed much better than the flat footed one against the Goans in the first fixture. In a mix of zonal and man-marking set-up, Kerala defended a 9v7 on the corner and hence Goa had to make up advantage through somewhere. And Odei & McHugh provided that.

Reading the decoy run from McHugh, Milos was on his heels. But Odei's strength was enough to hold-off Jeakson, his marker and Hormipam who had read the flight of the ball, but seemingly dragged down by the Spaniard. Unspotted by the referee, the ball took a bounce and it was only then Vibin had realized how it was shaping up but it was too little, too late. Borges pulled the trigger and slotted it away neatly.

Another difference in approach from the game at Goa was the Blasters' press. At Fatorda, there was almost no press from Ivan's men; but at Kochi they played their pressing traps high-up. With the full-backs, especially Seriton considered as the trigger, the Blasters wingers plunged in whenever the Goan full-backs received the ball. But the pivots dropped in to receive diagonally, essentially paving the way for a third-man play (a typical Manolo move) to release the winger in-behind the full-back. This occurred a handful of times on the right, with Yasir released in-behind Naocha, but Milos dealt with it rather well.

Albeit, this was the exact sequence for the second Goan goal, but on the left. Rahul went to press Jay Gupta a tad early, opening the lane for Nim to find Udanta. Noah, who tends to drift out wide left anyway caused the overload and one-two between them both released the Moroccan in-behind Sandeep, and with Hormipam no match for Noah, it was 2-0 in a flash.

KBFC v FCG Shot-map in first half (Image via FotMob)

Goa scored two, but it was not necessarily a whitewash. Kerala had 5 shots and Goa had 4, with both sides having one big chance each. While Goa converted theirs, Diamantakos' miss kept the scoreboard at 2-0. It was a mistake he was about to make up for. But as the teams went in at halftime, the score read 2-0 in favor of the visitors. With that said, the Blasters' performance was laborious to watch. Goa's press suffocated the Blasters' build-up to an extent, but even when the press was broken it was a compilation of errors. It seemed as if the players' minds was not there then, and that was Ivan's to change.

With a fourth straight loss looming for the Blasters, at a scoreline of 2-0 substitutions were expected; but none were made by either side. But what did not change in terms of personnel, was changed in terms of rhythm and mentality. Just as Pulasta Dhar mentioned in commentary "The expectation from the Blasters is energy". And they met that expectation.

From the very first move of the second half, that was evident. The Blaster's began to build-up in a 3 at the back set-up, often formed by Vibin or Jeakson dropping in to either side of the center-backs, pushing on the full-backs higher and wider. In this way, Goa's press lost it's in numerical equality and KB began to dominate the ball.

Kerala Blasters' build-up in the second half

Also the rhythm of Blasters play increased. The quickness of passes, the smartness in movements, the fluidity in anticipation all came back. It was like they had flipped a switch. That change in rhythm was something that Goa had not faced from Kerala in this season so far. Infact, no team since the break had seen this face of the Blasters.

The change in build-up progression allowed Kerala to have the ball in more dangerous areas, more often, turning the heat on Goa's backline. 2 fouls in 14 seconds later, Daisuke Sakai had a free-kick to strike. Without Adrian Luna, direct freekicks had been a distant dream in Kochi, but none expeced the Japanese delight that was about to hit them.

Sakai curler, kissed the left post and banged in, springing Kochi into life. And once Kochi is alive, it is hell for anyone not in yellow.

With the increased involvement upfield, came an uneasy consequence - transitions. As Kerala pushed up-field in serach of the equalizer, Goa started to find spaces in-behind through long balls, and such transitions were dealt well by Kerala Blasters' defence. Be it through Vibin or Azhar (replaced Jeakson) tracking back, or Sandeep defending the box rather than the wing, the threat was dealt well.

By the 70th minute, this change in shape had grown into a more conventional 3-4-3, with Vibin dropping into the backline and Sakai joining Azhar in midfield more often. This also meant Dimi could stay up as the central striker, with Fedor and Rahul always being off-the ball threat in-behind. This also gave the Blasters a numerical advantage in their press as Goa tried to build-up by using their 2 centerbacks and keeper alone, with the 3-man frontline, someone was always free to chase the ball back to the keeper.

Blasters' in a conventional 3-4-3 shape

What followed was history. Three goals in a span of 10 minutes and the first came courtesy of one of such in-behind runs by Fedor which resulted in the penalty duly converted by Dimi. The second goal too, stemming from an Aimen run in-behind slipping in Dimi (poor collection by Arshdeep) for the lead, turning the tie frm 2-1 to 3-2 in three minutes. With Naocha higher up to press and win the ball much more infield than his usual area of presence, Azhar was there to move it forward even more quickly to Fedor, who's combination play with Dimi resulted in the 4th. Two goals and an assist later, Dimi had more than made up for his first half miss.

It was mayhem at Kochi, and delirium for the ones who were in yellow. The don left behind in a moments madness, Kochi yet again standing tall as the fortress. 20 points from 9 games at home. With two to go, one each against both the Bengal giants; Kerala has 9 hours of football to play in the league phase and 4 points separate themselves from the summit. If a fan can travel 25+ hours to watch this team play as said in the dressing room at Kochi, all that needs to be done by the players to repay that is in 1/3rd of that time.

Meanwhile for Goa, its another hit to their title hopes. Atop for so long, struggling along now Manolo has a team which is in a rut at the moment, and even more than the 3 points, the loss of Borja Herrera might prove more detrimental at this point in time.

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