ISL 2017: How ATK could line up next season
Defending champions ATK have completed their quota of signings for the 2017-18 Indian Super League season and the Teddy Sheringham-coached side have got themselves a squad equipped to challenge for the title, which will be their third in the history of the popular franchise league.
Sheringham, alongside former Bengaluru FC head coach Ashley Westwood, roped in some of the most exciting Indian talents in July's domestic draft and followed that up with a string of high-profile foreign signings until the ISL transfer window slammed shut on 12th September.
Among the club's international recruits are two of the Premier League's top appearance makers - Robbie Keane and Jussi Jaaskelainen. Joining the two old heads are Portuguese forward Zequinha, English defenders Tom Thorpe and Conor Thomas, and the experienced trio of Carl Baker, Jordi Figueras and Njazi Kuqi.
With a fine mix of youthful exuberance and experienced campaigners, ATK are primed for another title assault and here is how they could line up next term.
Sheringham, who has favoured a typically British 4-4-2 shape in his short managerial career so far, is likely to resort to a similar shape given the club's technical director, Ashley Westwood, was also seen trying out a similar structure during his successful Bengaluru FC stint.
In that template formation, ATK are expected to populate the centre with foreign players the same way Jose Molina did in the club's title-winning campaign last year. With only five foreigners allowed in a starting XI in the forthcoming season, ATK will likely use Figueras and Thorpe in central defence, apart from Keane up front alongside Robin Singh and Baker in a wide midfield position.
The advantage of having Baker in the XI is the 34-year-old can play a variety of roles across midfield and could be a key player for Sheringham and co in ISL-4.
Similar to Prabir Das - whom ATK retained ahead of the domestic draft - Baker's versatility stands out and he could prove to be one of the signings of the season. Das, too, can slot in at central midfield if any of the foreign strikers apart from Keane - Zequinha and Njazi Kuqi - need to replace Robin Singh in attack.
Regarding the rest of the team, I-League champion Jayesh Rane will most likely be a fixture in the starting lineup alongside Westwood's long-time favourite, Eugeneson Lyngdoh. In goal, Debjit Majumder is a stocky but vital presence, but Jaaskelainen could also make the odd appearance when needed.
While ATK relied on wing play and crosses last season to such good effect that their two wide players - Javi Lara and Sameehg Doutie - were among the top creative players in the league, this season could see them play a more direct style of play with Sheringham at the helm.
In Keane, the Red and Whites have one of the world's best natural finishers and his ability to run in behind defences and pop up at all the right places could be a key design of their attacking play. Furthermore, Rane's ability to drift into central spaces will also go a long way in determining how ATK go about defending their title next season.