ISL Final Preview: Kerala Blasters’ Dynamism vs. Atletico De Kolkata’s Efficiency

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

You know, as much as I like a good tactical battle, when I come to the ISL final of a grand tournament, I expect some level of entertainment. Unfortunately, these two teams are not inspiring much confidence in me of getting that.

In fact, I am decidedly feeling underwhelmed about this match. However, since this is the last match of the season I’ll haul my ass to my extremely comfortable TV room and even deign to make myself a drink. Such struggles I go through for you guys.

A Nation Hopes from Kerala Blasters and Atletico De Kolkata ISL Final

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

ISL Final – Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

Those of you who’ve been watching Chennaiyin and FC Goa must already realise that with both those teams not playing, the ISL final is going to be all about defence.

The most optimistic amongst you will be hoping that Kerala Blasters bring that same swashbuckling drive to the game that they had purring in the ISL semi final.

I fall firmly in the second category. I actually want Kerala Blasters to open the scoring so that Atletico De Kolkata are forced to come out of their shell and attack a little more. Besides, a game that isn’t completely tactical will be good for football in our nation.

Personally, I don’t care who wins in the end as long as the game is fun to watch, so before either of you Kerala Blasters and Atletico De Kolkata fans castigate me, remember that I’m a neutral in this game.

Kerala Blasters Have Slight Edge over Atletico De Kolkata

Stephen Pearson's Deciding Goal

Stephen Pearson’s Deciding Goal

In my opinion, Kerala Blasters have a slight edge over Atletico De Kolkata. My reasoning for this is simple. After the ISL semi finals, Kerala Blasters have more flexibility to their game. They can actually rely on this flexibility to help them come out on top in the ISL final.

They played the whole of the league phase defensively. They couldn’t score a goal even when their league lives depended on it. It’s partly through luck that they got through. However, as David James says, it does take a little bit of luck to win a trophy.

Just look at the years before Arsenal won last season’s FA Cup and Chelsea in the run that was blessed by God, the Son Of God, Three Holy Spirits, Ghosts of Christmas, Zeus, Pagan Gods, Doctor Manhattan, and even the Chittauri.

The best thing that Kerala Blasters did is that they turned up for the ISL semi finals in the most confidence building manner possible. They routed Chennaiyin in the first leg and came up with the knockout punch at the very last moment to get through to the ISL final.

The timing of the knockout punch is important because I think Kerala Blasters were reeling by that time. Their confidence was on the wane and they most probably wouldn’t have survived if the game had gone to penalty shootouts.

Atletico De Kolkata Govern Themselves with a Different Philosophy

Total Football from Ajax in 1973

Total Football from Ajax in 1973

In contrast, Atletico De Kolkata defended for the majority of the 180 minutes of the ISL semi finals. The only time they looked to be peeping out of their hardened shells was in the first half of the second leg. But, they must’ve not liked what they saw because they jumped right back into their shell in the second half of the second leg.

Who can blame them? They fell back on the strategy that allowed them to clear the league phase. After they fell back on it, they actually got through to the ISL final with the same damn strategy.

Heck, that strategy has worked so often that even I am on the verge of believing in its miraculous wonders. The only reason I’m holding back is my allegiance to Total Football – the kind that Ajax made popular in late 1960s and early 1970s. Once you’ve seen total football, you never go back.

Antonio Lopez Habas, Atletico De Kolkata

Antonio Lopez Habas, Atletico De Kolkata

However, Habas the Henchman obviously hasn’t seen that style of football because he has a very minimalistic strategy. He doesn’t want his team to take any risks. I think he hates risk of any type.

He must be the type of person who always keeps a buffer of cash for lean times, ensures that his kids have the fear of god in them, doesn’t eat outside food much, avoids going out at night, never drives after drinking, and erm…never drinks. I wonder how he enjoys life.

Whatever you may feel about his strategy, it has given Atletico De Kolkata results and it’s all about results in the end. If they win, they will be remembered for decades while the great football styles of Chennaiyin and FC Goa will be forgotten by the next generation. Such is football.

Kerala Blasters Have To Cope With Suspensions

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

From what the head coaches David James and Habas the Henchman have been saying and what I personally understand of the mentalities of the two teams, I can surmise that Kerala Blasters may set up to attack while Atletico De Kolkata may continue with their own drab but result oriented strategy.

David James clearly promised an exciting game in his pre-game press conference. It’s also important to note that James has managerial aspirations in more high profile leagues in Europe.

I think he wants to impress some big shot Chairmen with his performance in the Indian Super League. He needs to produce in the ISL final for that as well. I believe mentioning winning a trophy in your first season as a manager in your CV is something that will improve his chances of landing a big job. This is another reason why I think he’ll try to go for the win.

The world’s media wants to know about it, so to think that’s it’s easy or that there is no pressure is completely wrong. It’s been three months, it’s been serious from day one, I’m a competitor and I have a team of competitors and we want to win the cup… I think we’re set for a wonderful encounter tomorrow; it’s going to be a wonderful and exciting game.

Kerala Blasters will have some selection headaches. Their biggest problem will be the keeper position. They may have to play the relatively inexperienced Luis Barreto, if neither James nor Sandip Nandy is deemed fit.

Colin Falvey’s fitness will be in question and I think Cedric Hengbart may be injured. They’ll also be without Jamie McAllister and Gurwinder Singh both of whom are suspended. James may choose to use any of Ishfaq Ahmed, Nirmal Chettri, and Raphael Romey in their places. Expect Pulga, Stephen Pearson, and Iain Hume to also continue.

Atletico De Kolkata Will Be Without Fikru

Fikru Lemessa, Atletico De Kolkata

Fikru Lemessa, Atletico De Kolkata

Habas the Henchman will start with his normal strategy simply because it has done wonders for him so far. In a total of 16 games, Atletico De Kolkata have only lost 3.

That, by the way, is the lowest in ISL. Chennaiyin had only lost 3 too till they lost the first leg of their ISL semi final.

Another reason why I think that Atletico De Kolkata will carry on with their strategy of stifling out their opponent’s attacks is because they are still without Fikru Lemessa. He has been their target man and defensive striker, if you must.

Fikru will not take part in the final. His injury does not permit that… But we have other players in our squad who are hungry to prove themselves and will grab this opportunity with both hands.

Without him, they have a sore hole in their attack. They deploy Mohammed Rafi in front but he acts more like a false nine than a proper forward. He still does the job of a defensive forward though.

He is accompanied by Luis Garcia who, let’s face it, doesn’t have the pace or stamina of his younger years. What he does have is vision and that X factor. I expect him to show some magic in the ISL final on account of it being such a big day.

So, this makes Atletico De Kolkata the more efficient team in the ISL final while Kerala Blasters are the more dynamic of the two.