Facing numerous challenges due to constant injuries, Kerala Blasters FC has experienced a tumultuous season in the  ongoing Indian Super League (ISL) season. 

Despite leading the table for a significant period early on, they eventually slipped from the top spot, trailing only behind FC Goa in the number of days spent at the summit. 

Despite these setbacks, the Blasters have managed to secure a playoff berth for the third consecutive season, a remarkable achievement for the club. Head coach Ivan Vukomanovic has been a constant guiding force since 2020, steering the team through highs and lows. 

As Kerala Blasters FC enters the playoffs again, their ambitions for ISL glory remain resolute, with the memory of the 2021-22 season final fueling their desire for inaugural silverware in both club and league history.

Key stats in Hero ISL 2023-24

Matches: 22, Wins: 10, Draws: 3, Losses: 9, Goals Scored: 32, Goals Conceded: 31, Points: 33

Tactical profile

Kerala Blasters FC have predominantly utilised a flexible 4-4-2 formation this season, particularly potent in attacking scenarios. 

Vukomanovic's strategic approach grants considerable freedom to creative players like Adrian Luna, Daisuke Sakai, Rahul KP, Mohammed Aimen, and Fedor Cernych, infusing a fresh dynamic into the team. 

Vukomanovic's adeptness at adjusting tactics to suit opponents' strengths and weaknesses has been evident, showcasing Kerala Blasters FC's prowess in breaking down defenses and scoring goals with intelligence and precision.

Strengths 

Scoring goals: Despite facing numerous injuries to key attacking players this season, Kerala Blasters FC has maintained an unwavering approach in the final third. When at their best, the Blasters have proven to be formidable in attack, tallying 32 goals thus far, surpassing last season's total of 28 goals despite playing two additional games. However, their recent form in 2024 hasn't been stellar, with only two wins in 11 games and eight losses, revealing defensive vulnerabilities as they've failed to keep a clean sheet. 

Nevertheless, their attacking prowess remains evident, as they've scored in 10 out of 11 matches. Dimitrios Diamantakos has been a standout with 13 goals, but the team has also benefited from contributions across the squad, with 10 different players finding the back of the net this season. This diversity in scoring options bodes well for the Blasters as they head into the playoffs.

Performance of young Indian players

Kerala Blasters FC is home to India's brightest young talents, a fact evident throughout this season. Vukomanovic has demonstrated unwavering faith in players emerging from their academy, including Sachin Suresh, Vibin Mohanan, Mohammed Aimen, Mohammed Azhar, Nihal Sudeesh, among others, all of whom have made significant impressions. 

In recent matches, Vukomanovic has also provided opportunities to other young Indian players who have seen limited game time, allowing them to showcase their potential. Emphasising the importance of nurturing young talent, Vukomanovic has consistently prioritised giving opportunities to young talents, a commitment the Blasters have wholeheartedly upheld.

Weakness 

Leaky Defence: Kerala Blasters FC has struggled defensively for a long time now, failing to keep a clean sheet since December. With only five clean sheets in 22 games this season, they share this record with teams like Punjab FC, Bengaluru FC, and Jamshedpur FC. Additionally, they've been prone to conceding goals, ranking third in the league for fouls committed.

This defensive vulnerability has coincided with a downturn in form since the league resumed in January. With just two wins in 11 games and eight losses during this period, Kerala Blasters FC will need to shore up their defence if they hope to overcome Odisha FC and advance to the semi-finals.

Player to Watch out for in knockouts: Daisuke Sakai

Sakai has emerged as a vital creative force for Kerala Blasters FC this season, appearing in 20 games and contributing three goals and an assist. In addition to his prowess in open play, he poses a significant threat from set-piece situations, often taking corners and free-kicks for the team. Ranking as the third highest chance creator behind Adrian Luna and Dimitrios Diamantakos, whose availability against Odisha FC remains uncertain due to their fitness, Sakai's role in midfield will be crucial for the team's advancement to the semi-finals.

Records and unique stats

  • Kerala Blasters FC’s Dimitrios Diamantakos has recorded the best differential between expected goals (7.07) and actual goals scored (13) in the ongoing Indian Super League season (+5.93 xG value); in fact, no player has scored more goals so far in 2023-24 than Diamantakos.
  • Vibin Mohanan (Kerala Blasters FC) has aggregated an opposition half passing accuracy rate of 83.4% in the ongoing ISL season, the highest by any Indian player and second highest overall (min. 300 pass attempts in opposition’s half) behind Alberto Noguera (85.2%); Vibin has completed 351 of his 421 such pass attempts in 2023-24.

Predicted starting XI: Karanjit (GK), Pritam Kotal, Milos Drinic, Marko Leskovic, Sandeep Singh, Daisuke Sakai, Jeakson Singh, Vibin Mohanan, Rahul KP, Fedor Cernych, Mohammed Aimen