Kerala Blasters vs. ATK Review

A Disappointment Writ Large

That match was a disappointment in 500 different ways. I felt so down and out after the game that I simply decided to crash for the day, although single malt whiskey may have something to do with it. But it says a lot about any game if you can’t enjoy it even with the crutch of alcohol. There was so much wrong yesterday that I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll try though.

The ISL4 Opening Ceremony Disaster

A lot of people are criticising the involvement of Bollywood in football especially since the Indian Super League has taken off in such a big way. I’m not one of those people. I get the need to get big name Bollywood celebrities to endorse the ISL, I really do. What I object to is the manner in which it is done.

Whatever you say, Katrina Kaif dancing to “Sheila Ki Jawani” and Salman Khan doing a lap of the ground on a bicycle followed by his bicycle gang of boys is not the right manner. The entire opening ceremony was a sham from the “entertainment” to the way Salman Khan became the Master of Ceremony.

I despised the fact that he tried to not only patronise the two captains of the ISL teams but also Sachin Tendulkar and the Cheesecake on the stage. I hated all his lame-ass jokes that fell flat. What I loved, though, was how the crowd gave Sachin a reception that was far louder and far more passionate than what Salman got. Must’ve burned his bacon that.

Lack of Fitness from the Two Teams

The moment we got over the disappointment of populist Bollywood nonsense, we had to face the prospect of watching two football teams with less than 100 percent fitness. What is it with the ISL that sees its franchises consistently start with poor fitness levels? Why can’t these coaches put their teams through pre-season fitness regimes designed to get them ready for the new season?

To be fair to Meulee, though, he admitted that his team is 4-5 weeks away from full fitness. It showed glaringly too. Kerala Blasters players looked knackered within 30 minutes of the first half. ATK weren’t far behind as they lasted the first half and 15 minutes of the second before looking like they’ve been through the wringer.

With teams so drained, it’s not surprising that the entire affair was so drab.

KBFC’s Tactical Faux-Pas

Not only were Kerala Blasters woefully unprepared to play a competitive 90-minute game, but they also got their tactics wrong. When you have Iain Hume and Dimitar Berbatov in your starting line-up, you keep them together. You don’t put one of them on the flanks and the other in the centre. Those two are best when it comes to linking up. Give them a chance to linkup with each other FFS.

Hume, for some reason, was operating from the left flank while Berbatov was central. Why Hume wasn’t playing the shadow striker role is beyond me. What was the outcome of this tactical faux-pas? Berbatov was isolated at the front with virtually zero service and Hume was confusedly shuffling between deep left flank and deep left midfield position.

High press

ATK’s Game of Fitness Attrition

While KBFC contributed to a dull game with their fitness incompetence, ATK did so with their negative strategy. ATK came here to play the game of attrition. They probably knew that they’d be fitter than KBFC and they wanted to use it. They started tentatively and cautiously without risking a lot.

Their strategy was simple. They wanted KBFC players to get tired before turning on the style. The problem was that they got tired before they could turn on the style. To a certain extent, I get it. It was the first away game of the season for them and a point is a very good result for them. As a fan, however, I reserve my right to rage against the machine.

Berbatov’s Sheer Isolation

Berbatov has been accused of disinterest throughout his career. He has faced that accusation with every team he has played for. This happens because of the way Berbatov plays. While he’s capable of magic on his own sometimes, in the majority of scenarios, he needs his team to support him. He needs them to show up and when they don’t they show him up.

He was depressingly isolated in this game because Hume didn’t connect with him and the rest of the team didn’t know how to connect with him. No one was on the same wavelength as Berbatov and it showed. If this is the way the team is going to be setup, you’ll soon see Berbatov going bald just like Meulee. Why? Because he’ll pull his hairs out in frustration.

A Few Things That Went Right…

Even though the night belonged to the gremlins, there were few things that did go right. They weren’t enough to make up for the dreariness of the game. I’d like to point them out very quickly.

  1. Sachin Tendulkar’s Humility: It is always a pleasure to see Sachin. I don’t know how he manages to be so humble with 45,000 people shouting his name. Pure class!
  2. ATK Style of Play: Sheringham promised that his team will play a short passing game. He was true to his word even though I questioned it in my preview of this game. to wings
  3. KBFC’s High Press Strategy: The idea was right from KBFC, they only lost out on fitness. High press strategies require high fitness levels and KBFC players weren’t there yet. This resulted in ATK easily bypassing the high press. I don’t think it’ll be this easy a month down the line. KBFC would’ve perfected it by then, provided they stick with it.
  4. A Glimpse of Hitesh Sharma: Even though it was a glimpse only with limited fitness levels. I liked what I saw. He will go on to be a good professional footballer for India.
  5. Paul Rachubka’s Redemption: Goalkeeping was something that Meulee must’ve been worrying about before this game, as I mentioned in my preview. I don’t think he will have any such thoughts now. Rachubka was very good and will have heartened the Yellow Army faithfuls.
  6. Lakic Pesic and Jhingon: This will prove to be a very good central defensive pairing for KBFC. Pesic took the man of the match but I think Jhingon could’ve gotten it too. KBFC won’t ship many goals this season folks.

I’ll leave you with a joke to make up for the sad game.

While doing his bicycle lap, Salman hit a groundskeeper.
He said: You were lucky today, bucko.
Groundskeeper: Why? It hurts so bad.
Him: I usually drive an SUV.
Har! Har!