ISL 2017 Match 1: Kerala Blasters vs ATK Predicted XI
A look at how the sides might lineup in the ISL 2017 season opener.
ISL 2017 is all set for a grand exciting opening in a clash that sees defending champions ATK take on two-time finalists Kerala Blasters FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.
Both the sides have undergone changes at the managerial level, with both teams going into the new season with new managers. Former England and Manchester United striker Teddy Sheringham has taken up the gaffer's role at ATK whereas former Manchester United coach Rene Muelensteen has replaced Steve Coppell at the helm for Kerala Blasters.
The two sides have faced off eight times in the ISL and the home side Kerala Blasters have only emerged victorious on one occasion. The Yellow Army will be yearning for revenge as they aim to begin their season on a promising note.
As for the ATK side, they will aim to keep their great record against KBFC intact, which includes two finals victories over the Kerala side in Seasons 1 and 3.
Kerala boss Rene Muelensteen has a fully fit squad at his disposal and we could see a host of their star players taking the field in Kochi. The Blasters have announced Sandesh Jhingan as their skipper for the Season 4 and the Indian centre-back will be a mainstay in the defence.
Former Old Trafford regular Wes Brown has a slight injury concern but could make the final XI. Between the sticks, another former Manchester United player Paul Rachubka is likely to start with the defence being flanked by Rino Anto and Lalruatthara.
The midfield for the Yellow Army could see the duo of Siam Hangal and Milan Singh as the pivots ahead of the defence. Their inceptions and ball-playing ability will be crucial to provide for the potent attack ahead of them.
The Kerala attack boasts of big-name stars with all-time top-scorer Iain Hume lining up with Indian striker C.K Vineeth and the last foreigner spot could be taken up by Courage Pekuson. This means the Indian players like Jackichand Singh and Arata Izumi could end up starting on the bench.
Predicted KBFC Starting XI - Paul Rachubka(GK), Rino Anto, Sandesh Jhingan(C), Wes Brown, Lalruatthara, Siam Hanghal, Milan Singh, Courage Pekuson, Iain Hume, C.K. Vineeth, Dimitar Berbatov
ATK manager Teddy Sheringham will be facing quite a few hurdles putting out his first lineup as he has crucial players injured with Robbie Keane, the marquee signing being the most prominent one. The others who will miss out against Kerala are Carl Baker, Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta.
The Kolkata outfit's goal will in all likeliness be helmed by former Mohun Bagan custodian Debjit Majumder, who was a figure of stability for the Bagan side in goal. The defence will be led by the Spaniard Jordi Figueras along with Englishman Tom Thorpe, who is a Manchester United youth academy product. The wing-back position could see the retained Prabir Das and Keegan Pereira taking the field.
Midfield is one of the strong areas for Sheringham's side that sees Indian star Eugeneson Lyngdoh lead the way with youngster Conor Thomas from England. Lyngdoh will likely have Rupert Nungrum and the Portuguese Zequinha at his disposal at the wings to use his playmaking ability to the full extent.
Despite the major absence of Robbie Keane, ATK won't be much lacking in the forward department as they can have the hefty presence of Finnish striker Njazi Kuqi alongside former FC Goa poacher Robin Singh to trouble the Kerala defence with their physicality.
Predicted ATK Starting XI - Debjit Majumder(GK), Keegan Perreira, Tom Thorpe, Jordi Figueras, Prabir Das, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Conor Thomas, Rupert Nungrum, Zequinha, Njazi Kuqi, Robin Singh
Prediction - Kerala Blasters vs ATK
With the home-advantage owing to their huge fan base in Kochi and a fully-fit squad, Kerala Blasters seem the prime favourites for the opener, But ATK can never be counted out with their great midfield talent.
The defending champions might have the physical advantage in the game but Hume and Berbatov up front for Kerala could just be the key to victory for the Yellow Army.