The fourth edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) kicks off with a battle between old nemesis Kerala Blasters FC and ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Friday.
The Blasters will be keen to avenge last year’s final loss in the very same venue as Kochi gears up for a blockbuster season-opener. ATK have got the better of Kerala in the past, but will be without star striker Robbie Keane, who’s sidelined with injury. The Blasters, however, are expected to field a full-strength squad as both sides look to open their campaign with three points.
Kerala Blasters’ only win ever against ATK came in Kochi in 2014. Since then, the Kolkata side have bullied their way to two titles, twice meeting the yellow-clad outfit in the finals. Backed by their vociferous crowd, Kerala Blasters would look to spoil ATK’s party on the opening day.
Iain Hume returns to his old stomping ground after spending two seasons at ATK and will be welcomed by the supporters but he will be of little help to Meulensteen when it comes to scouting opponents given the total change of structure for ATK.
Former Spurs and Manchester United man Teddy Sheringham has taken the reins of the most successful club of the ISL. He will be desperate to prove a point in his managerial career which is yet to reflect his playing days.
He will be helped by former Bengaluru FC gaffer Ashley Westwood who took a role at ATK as ‘Technical Director’ and was instrumental in ushering the likes of Robin Singh and Eugeneson Lyngdoh from the ISL draft.
Rene Meulensteen, a longtime right-hand man of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson has brought with him a host of Old Trafford old-timers in Berbatov, Wes Brown and Paul Rachubka. Thangboi Singto, the former Shillong Lajong coach will assist him and it will be his experience with Indian football that will hold the Blasters in good stead.
Potential starting lineups
Kerala Blasters FC:
Kerala will most likely opt for a 4-5-1 formation with Paul Rachubka in goal, a flat back-four and pacey wingers in midfield. Sandesh Jhingan, Nemanja Lakic Pesic and Rino Anto, are all likely to start at the back, while local star CK Vineeth will be providing width in midfield. Up front, Hume’s exchanges with the deep lying Berbatov is sure to keep the opposition backline on their toes.
Predicted XI: Paul Rachubka, Soraisam Pritam Kumar Singh, Nemanja Lakic Pesic, Sandesh Jhingan, Rino Anto, CK Vineeth, Courage Pekuson, Siam Hanghal, Jackichand Singh, Dimitar Berbatov, Iain Hume
Kolkata will probably begin with a traditional 4-4-2 formation with Jordi Figueras Montel and Tom Thorpe at the centre of defence and Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Conor Thomas in the heart of midfield. The responsibility in attack will have to be shouldered by the likes of Zequinha, Njazi Kuqi and target-man Robin Singh.
Predicted XI: Debjit Majumder, Keegan Pereira, Jordi Figueras Montel, Thomas Joseph Thorpe, Prabir Das, Zequinha, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Conor Thomas, Bipin Singh, Robin Singh, Njazi Kuqi
Head to Head: ATK 5 – 1 Kerala Blasters FC. 2 draws
SD Prediction : Kerala Blasters have a fully fit squad at their disposal and the massive home advantage thanks to their zealous fans in Kochi. ATK can’t be counted out with Sheringham hoping his lads are up to the task despite missing out on key players. One thing is assured, we are in for a cracker of a season opener.