After clocking 11 games amid an increasingly speculative Indian Super League schedule, Kerala Blasters currently lead in the table with 20 points, one point ahead of Jamshedpur FC. How they have maintained top position in the league though, is a surprising aspect.
In their 11 games, Kerala Blasters have only lost once – an opening day 4-2 defeat to ATK Mohun Bagan. In that loss, the criticism of the team was its inability to defend well enough and stop the glut of goals that the club was accustomed to in previous seasons.
Since that first game, Kerala has only allowed one team to score more than 1 goal past them in a match – the 2-2 draw against FC Goa. While a majority of the defensive resurgence for a team that couldn’t keep three consecutive clean sheets since 2014 was lobbed onto the shoulders of Marko Lescovic, a familiar Indian name can also be attributed for Kerala’s defensive prowess.
In 2017 when Jeakson Singh scored a header against Colombia colts in the 82nd minute of India’s first ever match in a Fifa U17 World Cup, it made him a household name. Since then, that team has seen multiple players branch out to different clubs in India but Singh remains a recognisable figure.
This season, the defensive midfielder has taken a leap with some commanding performances in the middle of the park. He leads the league in interceptions made with 30 and has played in all of Kerala’s games. In those games, Singh has completed 54 tackles, 434 passes (the most in the Blasters squad) and has rounded up his complete defensive play with 608 touches of the ball this season.
Kerala’s coach Ivan Vukomanovic credited his midfield pairing for bringing stability to their team and said, “Both Jeakson and Putea have bright possibilities as they have enough quality. With hard work, they will further improve and I am enjoying the manner in which they are evolving this season. We analysed their game in pre-season and we are happy that they are delivering.”
Chhetri’s goalscoring record
While the rise of young Indian players in the league continues, Sunil Chhetri’s form was one for worry. The Indian national team captain has been struggling to score and was goalless in the last 14 games he has played for the club. But the Bengaluru FC striker finally scored his first goal of the season against FC Goa.
The header was momentous because it would take him to 48 goals scored in the ISL, level with Ferran Corominas as the league’s top goalscorers in its brief history. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, but not before Chhetri had the chance to take it away from Goa. In the 90th minute, the attacker fashioned himself a chance on goal but his chance flew over the crossbar.
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“I decided to put him inside because I had the feeling he would score. It’s nice he scored, but again it’s not about Sunil Chhetri. I’m happy for him (because) he scored. He himself will be happy too. But, I think it also was an important goal for the team. I think it’s a key point. You can also score the second chance, but it whistled over the bar. Had a possibility to score, but in the end every time, it’s about the team,” said head coach Marco Pezzaiuoli.
Jamil’s rough fortunes continue
9 points in 13 games is a far cry from last season for Khalid Jamil. Credited with single-handedly taking NorthEast United FC into the ISL playoffs last year, Jamil became the first Indian coach to be given a full-time position by a club in the league.
But what has transpired since then has not been an ideal situation for the Mumbai coach. On Saturday, NEUFC slumped to their 8th defeat in 13 games, losing 1-2 to Chennaiyin FC. In 13 games, NEUFC have conceded 27 goals. They have also had to contend with missing out on players at various junctures of the season. Luck played its part as Jamil’s team hit the post thrice in the second half but were unable to capitalise on a goal advantage they had in the first half.