ISL 2020-21 news, Kerala Blasters preview: New season, new hope for Vicuna's men

ISL 2020: Kerala Blasters, a two-time finalist, has not made it to the playoffs in the last three seasons and its passionate fans are clearly running out of patience.

Gary Hooper and Sahal Abdul Samad

Kerala Blasters will bank on the likes of Gary Hooper and Sahal Abdul Samad as the club looks to end its barren run in the Indian Super League (ISL 2020-21).   -  Twitter @KeralaBlasters

There’s churn at Kerala Blasters year after year. The head coach changes every season, and often nearly the entire team, too. This time, six of the Kochi-based team’s seven foreign players are newcomers, as is the new head coach, Spaniard Kibu Vicuna.

FOLLOW | Kerala Blasters vs ATK Mohun Bagan LIVE blog

There’s good reason for that. The Blasters, twice finalists in the Indian Super League (ISL), have not made it to the playoffs the last three seasons, and the club’s passionate fans are clearly running out of patience.

Sahal Abdul Samad

Sahal Abdul Samad, who has been with Kerala Blasters since 2017, is one of the key players who has been retained.   -  Twitter @KeralaBlasters

 

Two big names, Nigerian striker Bartholomew Ogbeche – the team captain was the joint top-scorer in the ISL last season with 15 goals – and defender Sandesh Jhingan have left the club. Also out is experienced goalkeeper T. P. Rehenesh.

LISTEN to our preview of the 2020-21 edition of the Indian Super League

Strength

Every year brings new hope, and hopes are high this season. The Blasters have roped in Englishman Gary Hooper, who was in sparkling form for Celtic a few years ago, firing in 63 goals in 95 games, before moving to Norwich City in the English Premier League in 2013.

RELATED| Kerala Blasters fixtures: ISL 2020-21 schedule, venues and timing

The vast experience of Burkina Faso defender Bakary Kone, who was in action for French giant Lyon between 2011 and 2016 and featured in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League, could also come in handy.

Bakary Kone

Bakary Kone has played 141 games for Lyon in all competitions including the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League.   -  Twitter @KeralaBlasters

 

And the arrival of Spaniard Vincente Gomez, who has played for Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna back home, could sort out the worries the Blasters had faced in the defensive midfield positions the last few seasons.

Weakness

It’s not easy to prepare a side, especially when the team has so many new players and a new head coach.

RELATED| ISL 2020-21: Full team list of Kerala Blasters FC

Did the team have enough time to prepare for the ISL with the coronavirus pandemic making life difficult? Will the players take time to settle down? These are the questions that will be floating around.

Kerala Blasters fans at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.   -  H. Vibhu

 

Huge crowds have often turned up to support the Blasters at home in Kochi, especially during the early part of the season, and the team has spoken about this as a huge advantage. It could be tough playing in front of an empty stadium in Goa this season.

Captain

Blasters have named three skippers -- Costa Nhamoinesu, Jessel Carneiro, and Sergio Cidoncha -- for the season. Zimbabwe international Nhamoinesu is playing in his first season in the ISL, while left-back Carnerio and defensive midfielder Cidoncha were with the Blasters last season.

Coach

The arrival of Kibu Vicuna as the head coach should inspire confidence in the side, especially since he guided Mohun Bagan to the I-League title last season. Bagan has now merged with ATK and will be making its ISL debut this season.

Kibu Vicuna

Kibu Vicuna joins Kerala Blasters after leading Mohun Bagan to the I-League title last season.   -  Twitter @KeralaBlasters

 

For Vicuna, too, the league should open with a very interesting challenge as his team will be playing ATK Mohun Bagan in the ISL opener in Bambolim on November 20.

Foreign contingent

While Hooper will have Argentine Facundo Pereyra and Australian Jordan Murray for company at the front, the strong midfield has two Spaniards in Gomez and Sergio Cidoncha, the only foreigner retained by Blasters from last season.

RELATED| ISL 2020-21: All you need to know - teams, format, venues, stats, fixtures

Two more foreigners – Zimbabwean Costa Nhamoinesu and Kone – will be guarding the back.

Best new signing

That will be experienced striker Gary Hooper, who has scored more than 200 goals in his career. Much will be expected of him especially since Ogbeche has moved to Mumbai City FC.

Gary Hooper

Gary Hooper will lead Kerala Blasters' attack this season.   -  Twitter @KeralaBlasters

Best formation

Vicuna is tactically flexible but used the 4-2-3-1 formation at Bagan last season, which transitions into a 3-5-2 in attack and 4-5-1 in a defensive phase. Wingers and attacking wingbacks are key to his system in creating overloads on the flanks.

  Dugout videos