Intriguing battles and subplots in Hero ISL 2020-21 opener

The moment all Indian football fans have been waiting for is finally here with Kerala Blasters FC going up against ATK Mohun Bagan at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21’s opening fixture. Friday’s clash between the sides will mark ATK Mohun Bagan’s debut in the league and Kerala Blasters’ fifth consecutive appearance in a Hero ISL season opener. While there are plenty of battles and subplots in the contest, here we look at a select few.

Club debuts for top quality Indian defenders

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Hero ISL 2020-21’s season opener is likely to see many player debuts for clubs. However, fans of each team will be looking forward to seeing how one of their star defensive signings for the new season performs. For Kerala, all eyes will be on how Nishu Kumar fares in their backline. A former Hero ISL champion with Bengaluru FC and a robust presence at the back, a lot is expected from the versatile fullback in the upcoming season and it will be interesting to see if he can live up to the billing. Similarly, Sandesh Jhingan will be making his Hero ISL debut for ATK Mohun Bagan. The fact that he’s doing it against his former club Kerala – the team that he became Hero ISL first-ever Emerging Player of the League with – only adds to the intrigue.

Head coaches will be under the spotlight

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Kerala Blasters FC head coach Kibu Vicuna will be another Hero ISL debutant. He was in charge of Mohun Bagan AC in their title-winning Hero I-League campaign last season. ATK Mohun Bagan’s head coach Antonio Lopez Habas will also be under the spotlight as he looks forward to a positive start to the season for his team. Despite eventually lifting the 2019-20 Hero ISL trophy with ATK FC, Habas was on the losing side in both the encounters against Kerala and will be looking to make amends in that regard in the new season’s opening fixture.

Battle of the uncapped Indian wingbacks

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Another intriguing aspect of the clash will be to see how two of the most exciting, uncapped Indian wingbacks perform. Both Prabir Das and Jessel Carneiro enjoyed stellar seasons from an individual standpoint in the previous campaign. Prabir and Jessel managed five assists each last season – the most by any defender. Prabir, in fact, created as many as 27 chances in Hero ISL 2019-20, which was thrice the number of chances he had managed in all his previous three seasons combined. Jessel’s five assists last season was the most by any Kerala player in a single campaign and puts him just one assist behind Josu Currais’ all-time record of six assists for the Blasters.

Can Gary Hooper fill Bartholomew Ogbeche’s shoes?

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While there can be no doubting that Kerala will certainly miss Bartholomew Ogbeche – who is a part of Mumbai City FC this season – the acquisition of Gary Hooper will certainly soften the blow of his departure. Ogbeche was Kerala’s top-scorer last season with 15 goals but it’s worth reminding ourselves that Hooper also brings a lot of class with him. A two-time Scottish Premier League winner with Celtic, Hooper won the Golden Boot in the 2011-12 season with the Glasgow club. An instinctive finisher who has played 13 UEFA Champions League games for Celtic… don’t be surprised if he announces his arrival to the league with a bang against ATK Mohun Bagan.

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