ATK Kerala Blasters Indian Super League ISL Tactical Analysis

Ok, hands up, who saw that coming? David James tactically outclassed Steve Coppell as Kerala Blasters got a thoroughly deserved 2-0 away victory in Kolkata. Goals from Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic in the last thirteen minutes earned Kerala the points and considering the pattern of the game, James would have been disappointed not to come away with three points. Already, though, it has left people talking about Coppell and whether or not he is best suited to ATK. I alluded to this in the preview for the game, so I’m not saying I told you so, but…

A decent crowd of just over 40,000 turned out to see the opening game of ISL V and it’s safe to say that the majority of them would have gone home disappointed considering not only the scoreline but the manner of the way ATK played, as well. Let’s try and dissect what went so right for Kerala and so wrong for ATK. We’ll begin by looking at the starting XIs.

Mistakes From The Start?

ATK Kerala Blasters Indian Super League ISL Tactical Analysis

You could argue that the mistakes started from the get-go for ATK. Once again, referring back to the preview for the game, I knew it was going to be difficult for Coppell to incorporate all the foreigners into his starting XI and someone was going to have to miss out. I also mentioned the importance of Kalu Uche. He was left on the bench as Everton Santos was preferred which is a proper head scratcher. It is made all the more bizarre by the fact that Uche scored thirteen in fifteen games in comparison to Santos’ six in eighteen last season.

Speaking from a personal point of view,  I would’ve had Lyngdoh in over El-Maimouni, played Santos on the right instead of Rane and had Uche through the middle. That’s not designed to take anything away from the Moroccan midfielder, I just think ATK would’ve been better with Uche through the middle. James & Kerala, on the other hand, got it spot on…

Two Teams Of Five

ATK Kerala Blasters Indian Super League ISL Tactical Analysis

Let me tell you something. I am a HUGE fan of David James setting up like this. Bigger than you could ever imagine. Having Krcmarevic marshalling the defence alone was an enormous call, but ultimately one that proved right. The Serb showed that James was correct to have faith in him from early on as he was all over the place and disciplined. Not a bad attribute sandwich to have, there. When I say he was all over the place, I don’t mean he covered every blade of grass, I mean he was where he needed to be. Take a look at this…

ATK Kerala Blasters Indian Super League ISL Tactical Analysis
Credit: SofaScore.

The darkest part of his heat map shows you that his football intelligence is there and providing Wyscout is working later in the week for the ISL games, I’ll show you his game in a lot more detail. Overall, it was a fantastic debut from the Serbian and you’d be foolish to think that there isn’t more to come from Krcmarevic.

Going back to the 4-1-4-1 set up that was implemented, it’s great because it’s effectively two teams of five. The defensive five do their jobs and the attacking five do theirs. Perfect symmetry. It wasn’t just the starting XI that James got bang on the money, either. His decision to bring on Courage Pekuson at halftime paid off as well as the Ghanian caused no end of problems for John Johnson & Co.

Better Shape & Better Tactics

Statistically speaking, Kerala dominated ATK. They had more shots, more possession, more accurate passes, so on and so forth. For that to happen to ATK on their own patch on the opening day doesn’t bode well. It wasn’t just the statistics which proved what a difference there was between the two sides, either. What we are going to do now is take a look at the average position of each player that started the game on both sides. It works better to have the images side by side as you get a better feel for what the differences were.

ATK Kerala Blasters Indian Super League ISL Tactical Analysis
ATK on the right, Kerala on the left. Credit: SofaScore.

Where to begin? Let’s take it from the very top and begin with the overall positioning. If we include Lalruatthara (39), Kerala have five players in their own half (the defensive five) and five in ATK’s half (the attacking five), already you can see a clear plan.

ATK have got little cohesion. Gerson (3) and Johnson (4), should be pretty much in line, as demonstrated by Kerala’s centre-backs. This is not only surprising because of Coppell’s tendency to build from the back, but also rather alarming. Again, if you look further forward, it’s evident that Lanzarote (12) isn’t entirely sure what he’s meant to be doing as he’s far too close to Halder (17) and El-Maimouni (8).

Shades Of FC Goa?

Reflecting on the Lobera piece I did a few days ago, it’s intriguing to see the comparisons between how FC Goa set up (average position wise) in comparison to Kerala. In fact, the defensive set up is almost a carbon copy with Krcmarevic assuming the ‘Jahouh role’ if you will. Looking over that, you can additionally see that Lanzarote is not being utilised to the best of his ability. Admittedly, Coppell has completely rebuilt ATK and brought in a lot of new faces, but even still. Lanzarote was one of the stars of ISL IV and if Coppell doesn’t know how to best use him, then it doesn’t say much about the rest of the side.

If Kerala can match how FC Goa played last season and keep clean sheets, then David James could well find himself in the ISL Hall of Fame when we arrive at the end of the season. Of course, only one game has been played and it’s still anybody’s guess what will happen, but it’s nice to speculate.

Goals

Kerala’s opener was all about Courage Pekuson. He won the ball back in the middle of the park wonderfully well and then drove towards the heart of the ATK defence. Stojanovic had an ambitious attempt from the edge of the area which was well blocked, however, the ball then ballooned up in the air…

John Johnson gets caught ball watching momentarily and that split second allows Poplatnik to get a headstart on the Englishman. Free header and bang, we have our first goal in the ISL. I don’t want to take anything away from Poplatnik because his reactions made the goal, but from a defensive standpoint, somebody of Johnson’s quality and experience must be doing better than that.

No keeper in the world would have saved Kerala’s second. Narzary split the ATK defence with a delicately weighted through ball to Stojanovic and the rest, well, is history. He pulled Gerson one way, cut back onto his favoured right foot and bent it into the top corner. Again, being ultra-critical of the defence, you could argue that Gerson doesn’t do enough to prevent him from cutting back onto his stronger side. If anything, you would’ve just taken him down just to keep yourself in the game. Then again, not even the optimistic Kerala fan would’ve envisaged it flying in the top corner from there. Take a bow.

In Summary

At running the risk of repeating myself, James got it right, Coppell got it wrong. Work needs to be put in on the training ground for ATK as the lack of shape simply isn’t good enough, especially considering the amount of time that Coppell has had with the squad. Kerala, fantastic. Top marks to David James and his coaching staff. Next up for Kerala is an interesting encounter with Jorge Costa’s Mumbai as ATK host NorthEast United.

Until the next time.