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Kerala Blasters were ‘unfit’ for playoffs

The injury list never seemed to end at Kerala Blasters this season…

After Kerala Blasters‘ final match of the 2019-20 Indian Super League season, a 4-4- draw against Odisha FC, head coach Eelco Schattorie said, “We played with a different line up for 17-18 games this season because of recurring injuries. It made things difficult. But I think I brought the best out of what we had, (given the circumstances).”

Schattorie has received a lot of support from the Blasters fans on social media. At the same time, he has also been at the receiving end of a lot of trolls. The argument against the Dutch coach was that he cited injuries as an excuse for the poor displays of his team far too often. However, after 18 league games and a seventh-place finish, the reality is that injuries are the primary reason for the club’s downfall this season and the coach has been, far too often this season, hapless. 

Schattorie’s words on not being able to field the same starting lineup for more than a game are not exaggerated. Only twice have Blasters been able to field the same lineup for games this season and that is down to the incredible rate at which the players in the squad succumbed to injuries. 

Schattorie ran out of centre-backs

Keeping aside injury to a key player like Mario Arques, the biggest concern for Schattorie was the defence. Sandesh Jhingan was ruled out for the whole season during pre-season itself due to an injury he suffered when he was with the Indian national team. Losing the defensive stalwart and the club’s most trusted servant was the first blow. 

Brazilian defender Jairo Rodrigues was the next to be forced to leave the club due to an injury that ruled him out for the season. Gianni Zuiverloon, who looked one of the better recruitments by the club, also suffered an injury and missed games. 

The club brought in a half-fit Raju Gaikwad as an injury replacement and the situation then forced Schattorie to field Keralite Abdul Hakku, who missed the entire 2018-19 season due to injury. In the transfer window in January, centre-back Vlatko Drobarov was the club’s panic buy. 

Eelco Schattorie had to make use of seven different centre-back pairing throughout the season. The most amount of matches played by a single centre-back pairing was by the combination of Gaikwad and Drobarov. This pairing played five consecutive games at a point and that was the highest any combination has managed for the team this season. Neither of them was the coach’s first choice when the season kicked off.

Fans appreciated the effort

The support Schattorie received despite a reduction in first-team minutes for Sahal Abdul Samad is also commendable. The fanbase, known to have been reactionary in the past, have appreciated the team’s attempt to play possession-based aggressive football. The style was hit-and-miss but the effort, the lack of which frustrated the fanbase in the last two seasons, was welcomed.

Moreover, Sahal did not make full use of his chances and several key aspects of his gameplay were exposed in Schattorie’s demanding system. He will be expected to work on them and come back with a bang next season. 

Judgement reserved

Kerala Blasters had a rough campaign from start to finish. They were forced to cancel their pre-season plans abroad due to issues with the organisers and thereon, players’ fitness remained a problem. Questions have to be asked about the medical team after taking the type of injuries into consideration.

So far, the former NorthEast United manager has opted not to discuss the reason for injuries publicly. He had said, “The reasons for these injuries will be discussed internally.”

While Schattorie has taken to all the platforms at his disposal to give explanations on everything that has plagued the team, he has barely offered one on the numerous muscle injuries the team has suffered.

The fact does not change that it has been yet another poor season for Kerala Blasters despite making wholesale changes to their foreign contingent. It’s not clear what the direction of the club is. However, Blasters are yet to make a decision on whether Schattorie will continue to be in charge of the team next season.

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