ISL preview: Here's a tip for Blasters to avoid a hat-trick of defeats – be aggressive

Kerala Blasters' players train on the eve of their ISL match against Mumbai City. Photo: Special arrangement

Aggression -- It was the most used word by Kerala Blasters' head coach Ivan Vukomanovic in his pre-match press conference on the eve of their Indian Super League game with Mumbai City.

Because tactically, Vukomanovic said, his side were not inferior to Odisha FC that edged them 2-1 last Sunday or ATK Mohun Bagan that delivered a 5-2 whipping a week before that.

So then it was aggression that the Serbian found lacking in his team since beginning the season with a flourish, a 3-1 win over East Bengal, just three weeks ago.

The Blasters hope to avoid the ignominy of a hat-trick of defeats when they take on Mumbai City at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi on Friday. Vukomanovic wants a change of mentality more than anything else from his side.

"Some of the games in ISL are not about playing beautiful football," Vukomanovic said. "It is about fighting, winning the duels, being aggressive and fighting for the second balls."

Clearly that element in their game had been missing in the last two matches or for that matter in the closing stages of all three matches the Blasters played this season.

Six of the eight goals they conceded came in the second half with three of those, including the decisive goal in Odisha, sneaking in after 80 minutes.

A long ball from Odisha goalkeeper Amrinder had somehow found its way to substiute Pedro Martin, who went through a pair of Blasters' defenders as if they didn't exist, and scored in the 86th minute. Jerry Mawihmingthanga's equaliser was the outcome of Odisha reacting first to a loose ball in the box. It was no different when Alex Lima found himself unmarked to score a consolation for East Bengal or when Dimitri Petratos scored the easiest of hat-tricks.

"If you are not ready to respond to that, not ready to be more aggressive than your opponent and have a grip on the game, then you lose the game," Vukomanovic said.


Not sold out!
Friday's 7.30pm kickoff will be the Blasters' third home match of the season. As late as 9.30pm on Thursday, match tickets were available online. It wasn't the case in the previous two home matches. For the season opener on October 7, the club had announced four days prior that there wasn't a seat left to be taken. All 35,000 available seats were full for the last round, at least two days before.


Jorge Pereyra Diaz
Former Kerala Blasters players Jorge Pereyra Diaz (left) returns as a rival. File photo: ISL

Return of the poacher
Mumbai City head coach Des Buckingham has confirmed that all his players are available. That means Argentine striker Jorge Pereyra Diaz will be raring to get back to the starting XI against his former club.

Diaz was a popular player among Blasters' supporters last season, finishing joint top-scorer (8 goals) with Alvaro Vazquez.

His style of play -- being aggressive on the defence, pressing high and hard, reacting early to loose balls -- was the highlight of the Blasters' successful campaign last season that culminated in the final.

He'll be one the Blasters' defence have to be wary of alongside the technically sound Greg Stewart.


'They're good, so are we'
While Kerala Blasters have had a dip in form, Mumbai City are unbeaten -- a win and two draws.

Des Buckingham's City have shored up their defence since playing out a madcap 3-3 draw with reigning champions Hyderabad in the first round.

In the last 180 minutes, they have let in just one goal, Daniel Chukwu's thumping free header for Jamshedpur.

Asked if his side were the favourites considering the Blasters' poor form, Buckingham said: "We don't focus on the runs (good/bad) of other teams. Every game is important. We know the quality Kerala have and we need to be on top of our game."

The Englishman acknowledged the quality of their hosts, reinvigorated by a vociferous home support, but isn't perturbed. "They are a good team, but so are we," he said.

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