Bengaluru, Oct. 19: The Indian Super League is back for its sixth season and the opening match of the league will see two time semi-finalists Kerala Blasters FC host two-time champions ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi on Sunday.
With a huge and expectant fanbase looking on eagerly, Kerala Blasters’ new coach Eelco Schattorie knows that he has a considerable task on his hands.
In their previous season ATK ended sixth after notching six wins from eighteen games. On the other hand, Blasters ended in the ninth spot, having won just two games in the entire season. But both teams have a revamped look with lots of new faces and they will hope to get their campaign off to a cracking start when they face off in the opener on Sunday.
Kolkata and Kerala have faced each other twelve times in the past and half of those matches have ended up in a draw. In the remaining six matches, ATK have come out victorious in four outings, while Kerala have won just two.
The Dutchman, after a successful season with NorthEast United, is expected to work his magic with the Kochi-based outfit. And what better way than starting with a win over ATK who have one of the strongest squads on paper this year.
“Opening games are always difficult, there is going to be huge expectations, that is part of the game. It is all about stabilising the team, I think we are ready to face ATK. They have a very strong squad and are one of the best teams in the league,” Schattorie said.
Blasters last reached the play-offs in 2016 and have made quite a few managerial appointments in their bid to reach the last four in recent times. Schattorie is aware of the fact and is hoping that he can bring an element of stability to the club.
“ATK, NEUFC and Kerala have had the most amount of coaches. So, it is all about getting stability. Here, I have a good relationship with management. I think we have better depth than I had last year.
“It is not like a tomato soup where I can copy all the ingredients (from a successful season with NorthEast). The whole team is almost new. But I am ready to take up the challenge.”
Kerala Blasters have revamped their entire foreign contingent, bringing in some established names like Bartholomew Ogbeche, Gianni Zuiverloon, Mario Arques and the likes apart from a few promising players like Raphaël Messi Bouli.
They also have a few young Indian stars like Sahal Abdul Samad. But the absence of Sandesh Jhingan will be a huge blow for them. Though they have brought in a replacement in Raju Gaikwad, Schattorie concedes that their preparations have been far from ideal.
“We have a great team, we bought good foreigners. Preseason was not how I wanted it to be. We did not have the perfect preparation. We had some foreign players arriving with injuries. We are 2-3 weeks behind, we need to catch up.
“I have worked with Raju before and we needed another centre back with experience. His fitness is not up to the mark and he didn’t have a preseason. But the atmosphere is in the squad is good.”
Kerala Blasters Playing XI: Bilal Khan, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Cidoncha, Rahul KP, Moustapha Gning, Sahal Abdul Samad, Mohammad Rakip, Lalruatthara, Gianni Zuiverloon, Jairo
Meanwhile ATK will look to get off to a positive start. With a squad that has plenty of big names and head turners, they could so easily turn out to be the biggest attractions in the Hero Indian Super League.
The two-time champions are leaving no stone unturned to add a record third title and they will look to begin this quest with a win over hosts Kerala.
For the opening match ATK coach Antonio Lopez Habas will be missing two key players when he picks his playing eleven. While Habas will have most of his squad up for selection, the Spaniard will have to do without the services of striker Jobby Justin and defender Anas Edathodika.
The former is serving a six-match suspension which was handed out by the Disciplinary Committee towards the end of last season. Having already served three of those in the Hero I-League last term, the young forward will miss ATK’s first three Hero ISL 2019-20 matches, which will be played against Kerala, Hyderabad and Chennaiyin, respectively.
Anas, meanwhile, will miss just the opening fixture against his former side. The suspension is a culmination of the red card he received when representing the Blasters against the Indian Arrows in the 2019 Hero Super Cup.
While the duo will be missing from action, ATK have been on a spending spree during the transfer market and have built a competitive squad for the upcoming season. With top signings including Fiji international Roy Krishna and Edathodika, who will be unavailable for the opener, ATK has a strong squad at their disposal.
ATK Playing XI: Dheeraj Singh, Roy Krishna, Edu Garcia, Jayesh Rane, David Williams, Pronoy Halder, Sehnaj Singh, Ricky Lallawmawma, Augustin Iniguez, John Johnson
Dream11: Dheeraj Singh, Bartholomew Ogbeche, David Williams, Roy Krisha, Edu Garcia, Jayesh Rane, Rahul KP, Lalruatthara, Ricky Lallawmawma, John Johnson, Gianni Zuiverloon
TV Timing: Match kicks off at 7:30pm IST
Live on Star Sports Network
Live Streaming on Hotstar & Jio TV