ISL 2017 Match 1: Kerala Blasters vs ATK Match Preview
Current holders and two-time champions ATK are all set to take on the Kerala Blasters on Friday in the opening match of the fourth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) in Kochi.
Of course, last season, it was these very two teams who were fighting it out for the top honours in the final. In the end, ATK came out on top, edging past the Blasters on penalties.
This time, though, several things have changed. Two new teams have been included in the ISL -- Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC. The tournament is no longer a two-and-a-half month fanfare. The number of foreign footballers in the playing XI has been reduced from six to five.
Moreover, with the newly introduced incentive of a spot in the Asian Football Confederation's AFC Cup playoffs, the league’s context has completely changed. This means, there is a lot more at stake from this season onwards.
There have been changes at the respective clubs as well. While former Manchester United player Teddy Sheringham replaced Jose Molina as the manager of ATK, former United assistant manager René Meulensteen has come in for Steve Coppell for the Blasters.
With the arrival of new coaches, come new playing styles and with new playing styles, come new players, who are at the centre of the particular playing style. Among them, Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov are the biggest stars this year.
Keane, the Irish forward who enjoyed an illustrious career in England and in the United States, had been in terrific form in preseason. But he, unfortunately, suffered an injury and was subsequently ruled out for at least three weeks.
For the Men in Yellow, former United defender Wes Brown will marshal the defence line while Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov, another former United star, will provide the precision and flair up front along with Iain Hume. The Blasters do not have any major injury concerns and will be looking to bag three points in their first home game of the season.
Both teams look equally strong on paper as they both have quality Indian players. ATK will bank on Eugenson Lyngdoh to add the x-factor in the middle while the Blasters will hope that Sandesh Jhingan can forge a reliable partnership with Wes Brown in defence.
It promises to be an exciting match but the Blasters might just notch up their first win of the season.