Goalless friendly and crucial lessonsNovember 13, 2017
He may have meant it as a joke, but Rene Meulensteen had a good reason to be relieved when the lights went out 10 minutes early in Kerala Blasters’ football friendly against I-League newcomer Gokulam Kerala FC here on Saturday.
“Our guys switched off the floodlights because they did not want us to lose,” the Blasters’ head coach told Gokulam gaffer Bino George after the I-League side forced the Indian Super League runner-up to a goalless draw in the match that was cut short to 80 minutes at the Panampilly Nagar Sports Academy ground.
It was Blasters’ first friendly at home after their month-long pre-season training in Spain and, though friendlies often do not give the right picture, there were plenty of give aways that proved the team is far from ready though the ISL is just five days away.
The match was closed to the media and the public but given the fact that Blasters have the biggest fan base in the ISL, there were many who had perched on the academy’s compound walls, the vantage point.
“The match clearly showed that Blasters have not settled down. And we created more chances, at least six compared to Blasters’ three, but we were not able to convert them,” said Bino.
Blasters have a star-studded line-up this season, with former Manchester United striker and EPL Golden Boot winner Dimitar Berbatov being its biggest star.
So, one was curious to know about the 36-year-old Bulgarian legend’s current form and fitness.
“Berbatov is slow now, he appears to have problems even running with the ball but his passes and final passes were all perfect,” revealed Bino.
“Looking at Blasters’ performance yesterday, I would say we are almost equal. Since this is just a friendly, Blasters may not have gone all out, but the players’ attitude did not give such an impression.”
Defender Sandesh Jhingan was missing but ISL’s all-time highest goalscorer Iain Hume, C.K. Vineeth, former Manchester United star Wes Brown, Ghanaian Courage Perkuson all featured in the friendly.
Meanwhile, P. Anilkumar, a former Services player and current Kerala Football Association general secretary, felt there were issues in Blasters’ midfield.
“They were unable to dominate the midfield and that’s the reason Gokulam got some clear chances. The Blasters players were not focusing on holding the ball in the midfield,” said Anilkumar, also a former coach.
The problems mean that Blasters could take longer to settle down this season.
“And performance-wise, Berbatov is good. His passes were accurate and his final passes were very positive but the standard of the other players, in expectation and anticipation, needs to be at that level. There is where the mismatch is.”
Anilkumar said he was a bit disappointed about, but that was mainly because of Blasters’ huge build-up.
“My personal expectation about Blasters, after we read about its recruits and preparation, was much higher. They were not up to that level. And, I felt the team should have played more friendlies in India.”
Thankfully, the goalless ‘friendly’ came at a very crucial time. It will offer coach Meulensteen a chance to look at the weak lines closely and set them right.