Kerala and ATK renew rivalry to get Hero ISL 2019-20 underway
Kerala Blasters FC will host arch-rivals ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, Kerala, for the opening match of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 season. The two teams have a long history, having met in two finals (Hero ISL 2014 and Hero ISL 2016), and the clash is one of the most-awaited fixtures in the Indian footballing calendar. The encounter is set to witness several key battles all around the pitch, but will perhaps be highlighted by the one in the dugout between Eelco Schattorie and Antonio Lopez Habas - two very highly-regarded tacticians.
ATK have had the upper hand on Kerala in the past, but their last victory over their rivals came way back in the Hero ISL 2016 final. Since then, Kerala won one and the remaining three fixtures were draws.
Kerala have strengthened considerably this transfer window, roping in some proven stars from the Hero ISL 2018-19, like Bartholomew Ogbeche, Gianni Zuiverloon, Mario Arques and Sergio Cidoncha. All players were pivotal figures for their respective teams last season and will be backed to produce the goods this season too. New signings like Senegalese defensive midfielder Mouhamadou Gning, Brazilian defender Jairo Rodrigues, Cameroonian striker Raphael Messi Bouli have also been added to the squad along with a strong batch of Indian contingent, which include goalkeepers TP Rehenesh and Bilal Khan, striker, attacking midfielders Samuel Lalmanpuia, Rahul KP, and others.
Ogbeche, who has been named Kerala's captain for the season, was Hero ISL 2018-19's joint second-highest scorer last season while playing for NorthEast and is certain to be the tip of Kerala's attack. Last season's Emerging Player of the season Sahal Abdul Samad is set to take up a free role in the midfield, possibly flanked by Sergio Cidoncha and Halicharan Narzary or Samuel or Rahul. Mario Arques picked up a knock during pre-season and if deemed fit enough, may start as the deep-lying playmaker cum defensive screen. His ability to find his teammates consistently with long diagonals will be key for the side. If the Spaniard does miss out, Gning, a more classic strong hard-tackling defensive midfielder, provides a different type of option for Schattorie. TP Rehenesh is likely to get the nod in goal.
Schattorie's big concern will be in defence. While the defensive personnel at his disposal do look formidable on paper, a long-term injury to Sandesh Jhingan and minor knocks to Gianni Zuiverloon and Jairo Rodrigues will add to Schattorie's woes. With Sandesh out, Gianni and Jairo are primed to strike up a partnership at the heart of the Kerala defence. In the occasion of one of them being out, Schattorie may opt to use Gning and Arques as a two-pronged defensive screen and add new signing Raju Gaikwad at centre back. Lalruatthara and Abdul Hakku will most likely take up the role of the sidebacks. Schattorie's tactical acumen to cover up the holes in his defence will be key in the match against a very potent ATK attacking line-up.
Messi Bouli, Mohammed Rafi and youngster Jeakson Singh, will provide Schattorie with some intriguing options off the bench.
Similar to their opponents of the night, ATK, too, have had a busy transfer window, bringing in a host of new faces, including some big foreign names in A-League 2018-19 Golden Boot winner Roy Krishna and his former Wellington Phoenix strike partner David Williams. The duo accounted for 29 goals for the 'nixes' last season and are almost nailed on to start with Krishna taking up a central position and Williams operating from out wide. Former Jamshedpur FC sensation Michael Soosairaj is likely to take up the other flank, with Edu Garcia operating in the playmaker's role in the hole, making for a devastating top four. Pronay Halder and Sehnaj Singh may make up the two-man defensive cover in midfield.
Dheeraj Singh's return to Kerala and a start against his former team presents an intriguing narrative and the young prodigy is likely to be tasked with protecting the goal for ATK. With Anas Edathodika's suspension, the Hero ISL 2014 title-winning coach is likely to pair John Johnson and new Spanish acquisition Augustin Garcia at central defence, flanked by Pritam Kotal in the right and the returning Prabir Das in the left.
Habas will also have substantial firepower left on the bench in Spanish midfielder Javier Hernandez, veteran striker Balwant Singh, wingers Jayesh Rane and Komal Thatal.
With both sides sporting some brilliant attackers and two very experienced head coaches in the frame, fans can expect an exciting attacking encounter to kickstart Hero ISL 2019-20. Furthermore, both sides are coming off back-to-back underwhelming season and will look to start of the campaign on the front foot, injecting extra impetus into the fixture.
Kerala Blasters: TP Rehenesh, Abdul Hakku, Gianni Zuiverloon, Jairo Rodrigues, Lalruatthara, Mario Arques, Halicharan Narzary, Sahal Abdul Samad, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Sergio Cidoncha, Bartholomew Ogbeche
ATK: Dheeraj Singh, Pritam Kotal, John Johnson, Agustin Iniguez, Prabir Das, Pronay Halder, Sehnaj Singh, Edu Garcia, Michael Soosairaj, David Williams, Roy Krishna
DID YOU KNOW?
- If ATK score in the match, it will be their 100th Hero ISL goal.
- Kerala Blasters FC haven’t lost against ATK since the final of Hero ISL 2016.
- The two have met in two season openers in the past, with Kerala winning one and the other ending in a goalless draw.
Kerala’s Bartholomew Ogbeche or ATK’s Roy Krishna – which ace striker will be more influential in the match?
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Catch the match live on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio TV at 7.30 PM.