August 2, 2021

Kerala Blasters: Midfielder-turnt-winger Sahal Abdul Samad needs to improve

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Sahal Abdul Samad has played on the left flank four times this season for Kerala Blasters…

The best of Sahal Abdul Samad is yet to come, said Kerala Blasters boss Kibu Vicuna when 2021 kicked off. And going by the player’s displays so far, supporters will be hoping he can bring out his best in the next few matches as Blasters eye a difficult but not improbable spot in the top four. 

The 2020-21 season of Indian Super League (ISL) is Sahal’s stage to show that the hype is real and that he is not a one-season wonder. He had a breakout 2018-19 season under David James for which he won the AIFF and ISL Emerging Player of the Season awards.

Last season, only his second year at the top level, was one to forget as the Malayali midfielder struggled to nail down a first-team spot under Eelco Schattorie.

With Kibu Vicuna’s backing ahead of the season and the attractive style of play that he promises, the stage is perfect for Sahal to shine. However, an injury forced him to spend time away from the lineup for nearly a month at the start of the season.

Sahal has managed to feature in seven (six starts) of the 11 matches Blasters have played this season and the numbers show that he has been decent but not the outstanding performer that he once promised to be.

A couple of points to be noted here is that firstly, he had to recover from an injury after a short pre-season, which is not an easy road. Secondly, he has rarely played centrally this season, in a role that he excelled in under David James. The 23-year-old has played four times on the left flank, twice on the right. The player has attempted five crosses from the flanks but only once has it reached its intended target. 

Sahal has created the third-most chances for the team, behind Facundo Pereyra and Jordan Murray. He has also been at the receiving end of two big chances when he has featured but has missed both. 

The drawback in Sahal’s game was always the lack of a final product at the end of his eye-catching dribbles. He has attempted 29 dribbles in seven games, most by a Blasters player.

He has also had 31 touches inside the opponents’ box, only fewer than Murray’s tally of 49. Despite these numbers, he still has one assist and no goals to his name. 

One of the issues has also been his wayward shooting. Though not a designated forward, Sahal finds himself with a chance to shoot plenty of times during matches but his efficiency has been very poor. 

There is a clear lack of polish in Sahal’s game that his former coach Schattorie had talked about more than once last season. There are no doubts about the player’s potential and the club has put enough faith in him with a contract that runs till 2025.

It is just a matter of regaining his confidence and with a little help from his coach in terms of his positioning in the system, Sahal can succeed. And it is vital for the team’s fight for the playoffs in the second half of the season. 

All the stats used in this article are from Opta (up to date till Kerala Blasters 1-1 draw against East Bengal on Jan 15)