ISL 2016: Delhi Dynamos’ timid display against Kerala Blasters exposed their lack of Plan B

For all the regrets and raw disappointment that the game brought, Gianlucca Zambrotta will perhaps be most alarmed by the timidity with which Delhi Dyanmos went against Kerala Blasters at Kochi on Sunday. Kervens Belfort scored the only goal of the game in the 65th minute to give the Blasters a goal advantage heading into second leg in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Delhi Dynamos was a team that had racked up 27 goals in the league stage, their three forwards had scored more goals than the whole of the Blasters combined, However, at Kochi their lack of punch and blandness in attack was the most startling.

Florent Malouda of Delhi Dynamos and Duckens Nazon of Kerala Blasters in action. ISL

Florent Malouda of Delhi Dynamos and Duckens Nazon of Kerala Blasters in action. ISL

Florent Malouda of Delhi Dynamos and Duckens Nazon of Kerala Blasters in action. ISL

There is no shame in losing to a Blasters team that is almost unbeatable at home right now, and ultimately the goal was as much skill as fortune, deflected in by the Dynamos’ own their own Mallu boy, Anas Edathodika. They shouldn’t push the “hard luck” line too much though, considering they didn’t make most of the few chances that fell their way.

Kerala’s compact midfield structure meant play was never going to be smooth, and that the Dynamos midfield would never be given the time or space to fiddle with the ball as usual. In their 0-0 draw against Mumbai — the last game of the league phase — Delhi conjured up 563 passes with an 80 percent accuracy. Against Goa, in the 5-1 rout the numbers were racked higher — 625 at 81 percent. Compare that to Sunday, where their accuracy (74 percent) and ball rotation (434 passes) dropped to alarming levels.

While we are on the matter of statistics, here’s another to chew on: the top scorers in the league, Delhi, have got a solitary goal in their last three encounters. Kerala, the miserly goalscorers, have more.

Delhi’s play through the season has been reliant on ball possession, quick transitional movement and interchanging of roles among their front three. Three games in a row now though, this hasn’t happened. Their entire season has been about exerting pressure on their opponents through sustained possession. Now they are straying towards the predictable. This wasn’t quite Manchester City vs Leicester, but the idea was clear.

Fingers perhaps will be pointed towards Delhi’s over reliance on their Plan A and the lack of a secondary option. A simplification of play in the first leg may have helped them gather a valuable goal. Sandip Nandy never looked comfortable in the Blasters’ goal. The obvious thing to do would’ve been to put him under pressure with the high ball and throw Richard Gadze and Marcelinho in as distractions. That almost never happened.

Kerala’s right side isn’t easy to break through, with Sandesh Jhingan being very alert and always swift to thwart danger. On the left, after Josu’s substitution, there was a weak link to exploit, and a trick that Delhi missed. Instead most of the charge was through the centre, with a hope to bifurcate the Cedric Hengbart-Aaron Hughes duo. That is a partnership that has been outstanding through the season, and it will be too much to expect them to capitulate under pressure.

Florent Malouda continued to shine but he and Milan Singh often found themselves crowded out by Kerala’s defenders. The Franchman controlled the game for large periods, and in typical style played off and with his team mates more often than relying on his own trickery. It was a shame that no one was reading him well enough.

It’s too early to call this, there are still ninety minutes to go and just a goal dividing the two teams. Everyone will hope Delhi haven’t lost their spine and chutzpah this close to the trophy.

Zambrotta will also be glad the deficit is a single goal. Kerala probably know it isn’t enough, and will drive down to the JLN in the capital with a bus to park in front of their goal. An early goal from Delhi could force them to come forward and also open the play up. In an open game, there is no one who can better Delhi. Ask Goa if you want.

First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 20:28 IST

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