ISL 2019-20 diary: Problem with the opener

While other teams get to study Kerala Blasters closely, the Kochi club does not get any such observe-and-study advantage, feels coach Eelco Schattorie.

Action from the match between Chennaiyin FC and Mumbai City FC on Diwali day at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Chennai. There weren’t any fireworks from the players as the match ended in a dull, goalless draw.   -  PTI

Kochi’s Nehru Stadium is a much sought-after venue in the Indian Super League and the season opener in two of the last three editions has been held here. It’s something to be proud of for the city, for home team Kerala Blasters FC and for its very passionate fans.

But it could be a bit of a headache too, as Blasters head coach Eelco Schattorie pointed out. While other teams get to study Blasters — and of course, its opening-match rival — closely and plan out strategies accordingly, the Kochi club does not get any such observe-and-study advantage.

“For example Mumbai City, which plays us four days later (in the second game), has a chance to analyse us. I have no information about Mumbai whatsoever. So, these small things, they are not excuses, but they matter,” said Schattorie.

Incidentally, Blasters won its opener against ATK but lost its next match against Mumbai City.

Kanteerava will remain as BFC’s home venue

In a big sigh of relief for defending champion Bengaluru FC and its legion of adoring fans in the city, the Sree Kanteerava Stadium got the nod to remain as the club’s home venue despite the track and field athletes’ determined resistance against the use of the stadium for footballing activities.

The consent from department of youth empowerment and sports may have relieved the franchise of the deployment of its contingency plan, opting for Balewadi Stadium in Pune as the alternate home venue, but with the order coming less than 10 days before the first Indian Super League game in Bengaluru, there was hardly enough time to get the ground in prime shape for the match.

Kerala Blasters FC coach Eelco Schattorie was not particularly happy about his side playing the season opener for the second time in the last three editions.   -  Special Arrangement

A day before BFC’s opening game of the season against NorthEast United FC, rough patches were prominent on one corner of the ground. There were enough conspiracy theories revolving around the athletics fraternity’s disregard for maintenance of the pitch especially after getting an unfavourable verdict. But with pounding rain and a handful of missed chances that kept the scoreline an uninspiring 0-0, the pitch was the last thing on anyone’s mind that day.

He’s really come a long way

It wasn’t long ago when Aniket Jadhav was the ball boy in the opening two seasons of the ISL in 2014 and 2015. Jadhav, then 14, was handing out balls to FC Pune City players from the sidelines of the Balewadi Stadium. Since then, the Kohlapur lad has played for India in the under-17 World Cup, signed for Jamshedpur FC and had a three-month training stint at English club Blackburn Rovers. Jadhav made the next big step in his flourishing career by making his debut in this ISL season for Jamshedpur against Odisha FC. After the match, he took to Twitter and reflected on his time as the ballboy in the competition. He wrote, “Always grateful for everything, believe in yourself and your dreams, they do come true.”

Gregory slams refereeing

The standard of refereeing in the ISL has often come under the scanner and Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory did not mince his words ahead of his team’s first home game of the season. He said: “The league has improved in so many ways. The tactical knowledge the coaches have brought and the standard of Indian players has improved, their football knowledge has improved. The foreign players have improved and the teams have improved. Unfortunately, the quality of refereeing has not improved at all. The level of officiating needs to improve because everything else is improving.”

Drab draw on Diwali day

Chennaiyin FC played its first home game of ISL 2019-20 on the auspicious occasion of Diwali, but there was little to cheer about as the game was sparsely attended and was marred by a host of missed chances. While the faithful fans that turned up unfurled a banner saying “Trophy Heist” based on the Spanish show ‘Money Heist’ on Netflix, the team on the pitch struggled to find the net. And despite having seven shots on target, the home side could not score its first goal of the season. Mumbai City was also wasteful up front. In a game that should have seen at least three clear goals, it ended goalless as the sides shared the spoils.

Stan Rayan, Anjana Senthil, Aashin Prasad and Shyam Vasudevan.