ISL 2017 is back for its fourth season. This time with a new format, new teams and a host of new marquee players. Defending Champions ATK will take on runners-up from last season, Kerala Blasters on Thursday. In a recap of last year’s epic final at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, the home side will look to plot a sweet revenge on ATK while the defending champions will try to steal an early away win. In a revamped league, which will stretch out for almost four months this season, both the teams might be in for a surprise.
Players to watch out for: On papers, Kerala Blasters squad looks formidable. The team, which already boasts of retained stars Sandesh Jhingan, Rino Anto and and CK Vineeth, has further been uplifted with tournament’s all-time highest goalscorer Iain Hume joining from ATK. Kerala have also packed domestic talents- Jakichand Singh, Lalruathhara and Milan Singh- in the squad, apart from international marquee stars such as Dimitar Berbatov and Wes Brown.
Blasters have also upgraded their coaching staff with Rene Meulensteen, former assistant manager to Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, joining in. The experience offered by the 53-year old may prove to be important for his side during crucial situations.
ATK, who have already lost Hume to the opposition, have the services of star Indian forward Robin Singh. The latest acquisition, who played for Goa FC in the last season, poses a physical threat in the front line and may trouble Kerala defenders. Apart from Singh, ATK have also roped in Eugeneson Lyndoh, Jayesh Rane and international marquee players Robbie Keane and Jussi Jaaskelainen, among others. With legendary Manchester United player Terry Sheringham as the new manager, the defending champions continue to be the team to watch out for.
Key statistics: In 8 games played between the two teams, ATK have registered victories in five. On the other hand, Kerala have managed to win only once against ATK, a 2-1 victory at home ground three years ago. The remaining two matches ended in a draw.
In three seasons, Blasters have only lost a single season opener which was against ATK. On the other hand, ATK have never lost their first away match. Another important statistics which puts ATK in the driver’s seat is the fact that they have scored 11 goals against Kerala in 8 fixtures and have defeated them twice in final.
Early Predictions: It is too early to call the result as it still remains to be seen how the teams perform with the new squad. In spite of the statistics from previous seasons, Kerala looks to be a more balanced squad. With Jhingan in the defence, and Hume and Berbatov up in front, ATK might find it hard to get going.
The injury to Tottenham legend Robbie Keane, which will keep him out for two weeks, will further hurt ATK’s chances. ATK will have to bank on Singh’s physical strength and Rane’s talent to get past strong Kerala line-up.