Preview: Kerala Blasters look to avoid fourth consecutive loss against ATK
Kerala Blasters FC face Atlético de Kolkata in their 2016 Hero Indian Super League match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Wednesday. Both sides will be looking for their first win of the season after Kerala succumbed to a 1-0 loss against NorthEast United FC and Atlético de Kolkata drew 2-2 with Chennaiyin FC. Josu Currais returns to the Blasters fold after serving a one match suspension, while ATK have their full squad available for selection.
Head-to-head: ATK are in the lead having won three out of their five encounters. ATK registered 2-1 and 3-2 wins against Kerala in Hero ISL 2015 and also beat them 1-0 in the final of Hero ISL 2014. The Blasters' only win against Kolkata came at home in the inaugural season, while the first encounter between these two teams ended in a draw in the same season.
Aaron Hughes vs Helder Postiga
Kerala Blasters FC's marquee player, Aaron Hughes showed his experience and quality in the curtain-raiser for the season against NorthEast United FC. One of the best players in yellow in spite of the disappointing 1-0 loss, both he and Kerala will get stronger as the season progresses. His intelligent positional sense saw him make five clearances for his side in the season opener. Comfortable with the ball at his feet in defence, Hughes can also boast a passing accuracy of 77% that will be crucial for Steve Coppell's side who look to build their attacks from the back.
Hughes will come up against Helder Postiga in what is set to be a direct face-off between the two marquee talents on the field. Postiga had a strong outing against Chennaiyin FC and provided the assist for Sameehg Doutie's opener with a beautiful cross field ball that found the South African winger in acres of space on the right. The former Portugal striker also posed a constant threat to Chennai's goal in the game and will be looking for his first goal of the season when he comes up against an uncertain Kerala backline at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Mehtab Hossain vs Sameehg Doutie
Mehtab Hossain will have a huge role to play against ATK as he hopes to neutralise the various attacking outlets in Kolkata's side. He will be expected to offer a defensive shield for his backline and cut off the supply line to ATK's forwards by shadowing the likes of Doutie and Javi Lara across the pitch. An able distributor of the ball, Hossain is also capable of dictating the tempo of the game with his smart passing and possession retention skills.
Doutie has started the new season in the same rich vein of form that saw him become one of the revelations of Hero ISL 2015. The pacey winger was a constant threat on the right hand side for ATK against Chennai and can be the difference maker against Kerala in Kochi. His deadly crosses and intelligent runs are certain to make life difficult for the Blasters' backline. The 27-year-old is also a clinical finisher as his goal against Chennai demonstrated.
Antonio German vs Tiri
Antonio German will be hoping for a better second match with Kerala after an inconsistent performance against the Highlanders on Saturday. He showed flashes of brilliance that made him so devastatingly difficult to contain last year but is yet to showcase the full range of his talent this season. With more matches he will definitely get better, and the passionate support of Kerala can expect their English talisman to burst into life sooner rather than later.
Tiri's understanding with Arnab Mondal at the heart of ATK's defence will be crucial if Kolkata want to reclaim the Hero ISL trophy. The elegant ball-playing centre-back from Spain was unlucky in the last match after a Hans Mulder shot from range took a deflection off him before finding its way into ATK's goal. It was perhaps the only negative in an otherwise calm and composed performance by the Spaniard that saw him engage in five tackles and make three clearances.
Kerala Blasters FC: Graham Stack, Sandip Nandy, Kunal Sawant, Mohammad Ansari, Aaron Hughes, Cedric Hengbart, Sandesh Jhingan, Gurwinder Singh, Pratik Chaudhary, Elhadji Ndoye, Josu Currais, Didier Boris Kadio, Azrack Mahamat, Mehtab Hossain, Mohammed Rafique, Ishfaq Ahmed, Vinit Rai, Michael Chopra, Antonio German, Kervens Belfort, Duckens Nazon, Mohammed Rafi, Thongkhosiem Haokip, Farukh Chaudhary, Prasanth Karuthadathkuni
Atlético de Kolkata: Shilton Paul, Debjit Majumder, Dani Mallo Castro, Tiri, Arnab Mondal, Pritam Kotal, Kinshuk Debnath, Prabir Das, Pablo Gallardo, Robert Lalthlamuana, Borja Fernandez, Ofentse Nato, Javier 'Javi' Lara Grande, Sameehg Doutie, Stephen Pearson, Bikash Jairu, Bikramjit Singh, Lalrindika Ralte, Sheikh Jewel Raja, Abhinash Ruidas, Bidyananda Singh, Helder Postiga, Iain Hume, Juan Belencoso