Kerala Blasters FC: How Ivan Vukomanovic has managed to turn the Indian Super League club's fortunes?

The Serbian tactician's side has made an adventurous start to the 2022-23 ISL season, having recorded four wins and three defeats from their opening seven games.

Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic; Credit: Twitter/@KeralaBlasters
By Sreejith C R | Dec 2, 2022 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us


Indian Super League (ISL) club Kerala Blasters FC are one of the most supported football teams in the world but they have never managed to secure a trophy. The Kochi-based side reached the final on three occasions, but ended up at the losing side. Their latest heartbreak was in the last edition, when Hyderabad FC got the better of the Yellow Army on penalties to lift the title. However, the fans were optimistic about the new season as the management extended head coach Ivan Vukomanovic’s contract and managed to retain the core group po players. The Serbian tactician’s side has made an adventurous start to the 2022-23 ISL season, having recorded four wins and three defeats from their opening seven games.

The Blasters kicked off their 2022-23 ISL campaign with a 3-1 win over East Bengal in front of their home fans at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on October 7. Despite not being at their best, individual brilliance took them over the line against an inexperienced East Bengal side. The second game was a reality check for the Yellow Army as ATK Mohun Bagan ran riot, winning 5-1 in front of the Kochi fans. And then, two more successive defeats followed against Odisha FC and Mumbai City FC.  KBFC conceded 10 goals from their opening four games, while scoring six times. Vukomanovic, is an experienced coach and he was quick to change the personnel and the game plan. 

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Change in back-four

KBFC’s run to the final last term was largely due to a solid defence, consisting of Marko Leskovic, Hormipam Ruivah, Harmanjot Khabra and Jessel Carneiro. They managed to keep the maximum number of clean sheets (8) in the 2021-22 ISL season. However, this time around, the Yellow Army struggled at the back, having conceded 10 times in the first four games. The Serbian tactician decided to inject fresh legs and replaced the full-backs Khabra and Jessel with Sandeep Singh and Nishu Kumar respectively. Khabra and Jessel were not getting any younger at 33 and 32-years respectively. Since the change in personnel at the back, KBFC have conceded just once in their last three matches and are now back on track to challenge for a top-four spot. Sandeep is a solid no-nonsense defender, who is not afraid to put his body on the line, while Nishu is a more of an attack-minded full-back, who can play at either flanks, is pretty good with both his feets and can deliver quality crosses. 

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New game plan

The biggest loss for the Blasters this term was the departure of the two forwards Alvaro Vazquez and Jorge Pereyera Diz to FC Goa and Mumbai City FC respectively. Both of them scored eight goals each last term, and were versatile enough to switch positions with the wide players Adrian Luna and Sahal Abdul Samad, often making it a nightmare for the opposition defenders to mark them. However, this time around, the new recruits Apostolos Giannou and Dimitrios Diamantakos couldn’t develop the same kind of understanding with the wide players. Therefore, Vukomanovic was quick to address the issue, as he introduced Rahul KP and Ivan Kalyuzhnyi into the starting lineup replacing Puita and Giannou. Diamantakos led the line with Luna operating behind him in a free role. Rahul and Sahal occupied the flanks, while Ivan was a revelation as a box-to-box midfielder. The midfield and Defence are disciplined as well as compact, while the introduction of Rahul on the right flank has added more pace to the side, when going forward. Blasters have now become a tough side to beat as they used to be in the last edition.

Ivan Kaliyushni has been the key player

The Ukrainian midfielder is the team’s top goal-scorer with four scalps to his name in seven outings. Meanwhile some of the goals he has scored have been outrageous. Last time out, in the 1-0 win over Hyderabad, the 28-year-old proved that he can not only attack but also defend. He is a work horse in the middle of the park, who is pretty good at linking up fellow attackers and has got a powerful left foot. Ivan has formed a solid partnership with Jeakson Singh in the engine room. The 21-year-old Indian sit’s in front of the back-four doing all the dirty work, which allows Ivan to join the attack when required. 

The Blasters have now won three consecutive games and their confidence increased tenfold. Their latest victory against last year’s champions Hyderabad FC was a double delight for the fans. Although it’s still early days in the league, the fans are dreaming of another knockout match at the Kochi stadium. Their next outing is against Jamshedpur FC, on Sunday, before hosting neighbours Bengaluru FC, in what could be a high voltage encounter, at the Nehru stadium on December 11. 



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