The Dutch possession style vs the Spanish possession style will be the apt description of the match between Kerala Blasters vs FC Goa. Fans of both would have actively anticipated the match as it offers similar game philosophy yet differential ideas of play.
On 1st December, the Manjappada supporters welcomed the Gaurs in Kochi to witness this fine battle in the Indian Super League.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine Eelco Schattorie and Sergio Lobero’s tactics for the game. The following analysis will focus on how both sides reacted and adapted to the opposition’s gameplay.
Kerala Blasters started in a 4-4-2 flat. They made two changes from the last game against Bengaluru. It was only the second time that both the strikers Messi Bouli and erstwhile PSG forward Bartholomew Ogbeche started together. They were plagued with the defensive injuries of Sandesh Jhingan, Jairo Rodrigues and Gianni Zuiverloon. Raju Gaikwad and Vlatko Drobarov started in their stead.
Goa played in a 4-4-1-1 formation. They missed Hugo Boumous and Ahmed Jahouh because of suspension. Former La Liga player Ferran Corominas missed the game too because of his injury. Because of which, Edu Bedia took the left central midfield role and Brandon Fernandes played as a number 10. Mandar Rao played on the left-wing as Saviour Gama got the first start of his campaign.
Kerala Blasters’ build-up play
“My style of football is high-tempo and dominating. Going forward, on the ball and even defensively. Pressing high and trying to score. Every team wants to score but I like to dominate and be in control. If I have to sit back and the other team is dominating me, I get crazy. I can’t handle that”, said Kerala Blasters‘ head coach Schattorie in an interview for Scroll.in.
Therefore it didn’t matter how Goa had set their first line of the press, the plan was to always keep the ball and stay in control. Kerala Blasters did manage to achieve that for the most part of the game through their set-up. Starting out from the back, Jeakson would drop between his centre-backs while encouraging them to provide width to the team. Left centre-midfielder Cidoncha has the licence to shift horizontally into space ahead of these three players. This creates a 5v4 situation against Goa’s first line of constraint.
Lobero’s men prefer to set their first-line high against the opposition build-up. One of the two centre-midfielders (Lenny Rodrigues or Edu Bedia) would join the press to mark opposition pivot (in this case Cidoncha).
To counter that, Kerala’s wingers Sahal and Prasanth inverted into half-spaces and the full-backs Rakip and Carneiro pushed higher up combining to have four supporting players in the mid-block. Due to the wingers’ position in half-spaces, Goa’s centre-midfielders were pinned in the centre making it difficult for them to join the press. This shape ensured numerical superiority in the first phase and multiple passing outlets in mid-block for Kerala. This allowed them to progress the ball further beating the first line of defence of Goa.
Dealing with the press from full-backs
In the scenario when Goa’s centre-midfielder joined the press from the centre, they left either Prasanth or Sahal unmarked in the half-spaces. Their positioning made it difficult for Goa’s full-back to mark them as they were too deep and central for them. However, when they did try to mark the wingers in half-spaces, they left a lot of space on flanks behind them.
As we can see here, Lenny was marking Cidoncha and Prasanth was an easy outlet for Drobarov. Prasanth combined with Rakip to play a quick one-two as soon as Goa’s left-back Gama decided to leave his position and press Prasanth. Blaster’s exploited the space on the flanks to progress further and create chances for them. This is why Goa’s PPDA (Passing allowed per def. action) was high at 14.9 as they scuffled to get the ball.
After all, having two dominant strikers ahead will always leave gates open for route one football. If all options were closed down by Goa then Blasters opted for playing long balls to their forward pair. Fall’s red card was a result of a mistimed tackle while coping with the run of Ogbeche who was chasing the long ball. This shows how Kerala Blasters’ developed their holistic build-up system.
Kerala Blasters’ chances created
The Tuskers focused their men centrally in the offence, overloading the middle corridor. Sahal is naturally attacking midfielder and him positioning centrally can only benefit the team from his creativity.
This also allows Carneiro to have the left flank all by himself to attack. Rakip and Prasanth often switched roles in half-space and wider corridor. The focus was clearly not to play with one player behind the other instead, one player next to the other. This increases the number of channels to attack and provides optimum lateral support while compromising on the depth and vertical support. Thus their offensive shape changed to 4-4-2 box midfield from 4-4-2 flat.
The central overload and presence of two strikers kept Goa narrow which allowed Rakip and Carneiro the space to venture out wide and deliver crosses regularly. Both the full-backs collectively delivered 11 crosses in the game. Carneiro being exceptionally good delivered his crosses with 80% accuracy. The Blasters made sure they had at least three players inside the box while crossing. However, Kerala failed to make most of it, hence they were punished for it in the late minutes.
Front two combining
One of the key elements of their attack was how the two strikers functioned together. Bouli played as an advanced forward using his pace and skills from time to time. Whereas Ogbeche played as a shadow striker behind him. He preferred dropping in the midfield to collect passes and then redistribute the ball. While Bouli was smart to make the runs behind the defensive line. This helped in disorganising Goa’s backline.
The second goal was a result of a well-coordinated movement from both the strikers. Ogbeche dropped in midfield despite the fact that the ball was with his player. Rodrigues doesn’t follow him and gives him time to pick Carneiro. This is understandable as he is not a natural centre-back and is just filling in for red-carded Fall. Simultaneously, Bouli is making a run forcing Peña to track him. This results in disorganising and breaking the structure of the line. Bouli ran into the space to poach an easy pass into the goal.
The strikers showed a similar movement inside the box. Bouli likes to make a run forward (towards the six-yard box) and Ogbeche drops off the line to be a cut-back option. Inaccurate crosses and miss-timed finishes restricted their goal score to just two. The Blasters took 15 shots in total with only four being on target. Nine out of the 15 shots were from the outside of the penalty box.
Goa’s response in transitions
The beauty of this Goan team is that they are equally good at counter-attacks as they are at positional play. The Gaurs like to attack straight through the central channel. They adapted to Kerala’s dominance and tried to find chances in transitions. The attacking structure of Kerala Blasters depicts the higher positioning of full-backs. The two-centre backs and either one or two centre-midfielders stayed back in rest defence. This meant that Kerala Blasters had blocked the central channel.
Sticking to their playing style
Brandon Fernandes was pivotal to resolve this dilemma. He stayed between the lines and moved off his central position to provide the diagonal passing option to the ball carrier in transitions. His positioning and angle made him a viable option for his teammates.
His position between the lines gave him time to turn on the ball while he attracted pressure from Kerala’s defenders who were playing in a high-line. He then easily slipped a pass for Manvir Singh who picked the same running lane as of the pressuring defender. Unfortunately on this occasion, they were wrongfully judged offside. Brandon’s positional superiority helped Goa to still counter-attack from the centre.
He also had the pace of his captain Mandar Rao Desai and Jackichand Singh on the flanks. The higher positions of Kerala’s full-backs demanded time and energy to get back in position in transitions. On losing the ball in their own half, it required strenuous efforts to retain the shape of the back-line. Brandon’s ability to play precise packing passes capitalized on this increased gap between the centre-back and full-back. However, Mandar’s brisk run behind the full-back was not enough to get to the end of the ball.
Goa found it difficult to get a substantial result out of these counters. They were held back by tactical fouls from Kerala Blasters and poor decision making of the ball carriers in their attempts to convert half-chances into goals.
When Goa turned the tide
Goa deserve credit for their mentality and perseverance. The section is solely based on their grit and tireless efforts that they managed to get a point out of nothing. They fought for every duel and emerged as the superior challenger out of it. Goa’s back four won 22 out of their 27 defensive duels contested.
After the red card, Goa didn’t change their style of play. They still tried to play it out from the back and keep the ball whenever possible. However, they did slow down with their pressing to conserve energy and maintain their defensive shape until the 70th minute.
Then, the Gaurs changed their gears and went all out on Blasters. There was certainly a lack of confidence in Kerala’s players as it was evident with a series of scrappy clearances in the 80th minute. Goa took 8 of their 12 shots after the 70th minute of the game. Their efforts were rewarded in the 92nd minute with an equaliser from Rodrigues which gave them the precious one point in Kochi.
Kerala Blasters managed to tactically outclass Goa in this match. The yellow army dominated the game in all aspects. However, Goa’s desire to stay in the game paid off well. Perhaps this match will remain as an example to know that if you don’t take your chances then this game will punish you.