New-look Kerala Blasters takes on ATK in ISL opener

With injuries to key players, Kerala Blasters coach Eelco Schattorie stated that it has not been a perfect preparation while heading into the new season.

The season opener in Kochi is expected to see a sold out Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.   -  H. Vibu

For a side which finished near the bottom of the Indian Super League (ISL) last season, the Kerala Blasters FC has gone for a major revamp this time. There is a nice new bunch of foreigners and some bright youngsters. And there's a new head coach, too, in the form of Dutchman Eelco Schattorie, who worked magic with NorthEast United by helping the side to the playoffs for the first time ever.

But as the ISL's sixth edition opens at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Sunday evening with the Blasters taking on former two-time champion ATK, it's clear that the home side has not had the best of preparations.

SEASON PREVIEW | Five editions down, new tricks needed for a new season?

“Though our club did everything to make a good pre-season tour (in the UAE) for our team, unfortunately our pre-season camp was cancelled and therefore, we did not have the perfect preparation,” said Schattorie here on Saturday.

He added, “And we had some foreign players arriving with injuries. Basically, I would say we are two, may be three, weeks behind. We need to catch up.”

Blasters have had added plenty of fresh faces with a new coach at the helm. Photo: H. Vibu

 

A few weeks ago, the Dutchman had spoken about not having played his best defenders in any of his pre-season friendlies as many of them were injured. The recent injury to star centre-back Sandesh Jhingan, who is likely to miss the entire season with an ACL tear, is another major blow for the team. Schattorie, however, did not reveal the current fitness status of his players on Saturday.

Centre-back Raju Gaikwad, who has come in virtually at the last minute, has some catching-up to do too.

“His fitness is not up to par, he did not have a pre-season,” explained the head coach.

Beginnings are tough.

READ | Revamped Kerala Blasters eyes upswing in fortunes

“The most difficult thing in football is the opening game, you never know what to expect. It's a full-pressure match, we have some players who have never played under a huge crowd like this. So there is going to be huge expectations about the game,” said Schattorie.

“That's fine with me but it's all about trying to stabilise our team. We are a little bit behind regarding the pre-season but we are ready to face ATK and get the momentum going and that will be, hopefully, a good start for the rest of the season.”

OGBECHE, MAN TO WATCH

The Blasters' new captain, striker Bartholomew Ogbeche will be the man to watch for the Kochi-based side, which struggled a lot in the scoring department. Ogbeche was second in the ISL scorers' list last season with 12 goals while playing for NorthEast.

ATK, too, has made wholesale changes for the new season. Photo: H. Vibu

 

Spaniard Antonio Habas, who helped ATK to the ISL title in the inaugural edition in 2014, is back with the Kolkata team. The official pre-match media conference on Saturday did not feature anybody from the ATK, which finished sixth last season. The team has some smart forwards like Australian striker David Williams and Fiji international Roy Krishna, who won the Golden Boot in the A-League.

READ | Habas returns to ATK, can the title too?

Anas Edathodika and Jobby Justin, ATK's new signings, will not feature in the opener as they will be serving out their carried-forward suspensions from last season.

The Blasters had beaten ATK 2-0 in its ISL opener in Kolkata last season and it will be interesting to see who will produce the fireworks this time.

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