ISL 2020-21 news: Kerala Blasters, ATK Mohun Bagan kick off a season like no other

ISL 2020: ATK Mohun Bagan's coach Habas adopts a 'no friendly' strategy; teams with stronger bench could do better.

ATK won the 2019-20 ISL title before it officially completed the merger with I-League champion Mohun Bagan.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

This is an Indian Super League season like no other. The coronavirus pandemic threw up many unexpected challenges, so much so that teams were forced to come up with new strategies.

The seventh edition of the country's premier football league, which begins behind closed doors at Bambolim in Goa on Friday, is bigger and better with the arrival of Mohun Bagan, after its merger with ATK, and East Bengal but teams have had plenty of hurdles.

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A couple of Kerala Blasters players finished their quarantine just three days ago while defending champion ATK Mohun Bagan, which meets Blasters in the ISL opener, did not play any friendly matches during the pre-season.

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READ | ISL 2020-21 news, Kerala Blasters preview: New season, new hope for Vicuna's men

“We didn't consider it necessary to play friendly matches, this is a special pre-season. It is more difficult to play with our own teammates than other opponents,” Spaniard Antionio Habas, the ISL's most successful coach, said on Thursday.

“For me, the friendly matches did not have the conditions necessary for playing. So, it was better to play against ourselves.”

Kibu Vicuna

Kibu Vicuna will have a point to prove with Kerala Blasters when he comes up against ATKMB. -Twitter @KeralaBlasters   -  Twitter @KeralaBlasters

 

Since teams did not enough time to prepare, Blasters' head coach Kibu Vicuna felt that settling down will take longer this season.

“It is better to have more friendly games in pre-season but some players came late because of visa issues. For sure, we are going to be better next month and better in two months,” said Vicuna, who helped Bagan win the I-League title last season.

The Blasters, a new-look side this time with Gary Hooper leading the attack, chose to have three captains – Sergio Cidoncha, Jessel Carneiro and Costa Nhamoinesu – this time.

READ | ISL 2020-21: Who are ATK Mohun Bagan's foreign players?

The short pre-season also means that fitness could be an issue for so many teams with good bench strength could do better than sides with big names.

Antonio Habas's men didn't play any pre-season friendlies in the lead up to the season. Twitter @atkmohunbaganfc

 

“We have a very good squad and that is more important in this situation. We need rotation this season more than any other season,” said Habas.

With no fans allowed, Friday's clash between the ISL's most popular teams will have a very different feel.

“We are mentally prepared to play without the supporters. In this current Covid situation, we have to find another motivation, inner motivation and motivation within the ground and in the individual. I don't think this situation is good but it's same for all,” said the ATKMB coach.

 

Match facts

Venue: GMC Athletic Stadium, Bambolim

Time: 7.30 pm IST

Squads

Kerala Blasters: Albino Gomes, Bilal Khan, Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Muheet Khan; Costa Nhamoinesu, Nishu Kumar, Bakary Kone, Jessel Carneiro, Sandeep Singh, Abdul Hakku, Lalruatthara; Sergio Cidoncha, Sahal Abdul Samad, Vicente Gomez, Seityasen Singh, Rahul KP, Givson Singh, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Yendrembam Denechandra, Nongdamba Naorem, Arjun Jayaraj, Ayush Adhikari, Jeakson Singh, Prasanth Karuthadathkuni, Ritwik Das, Rohit Kumar; Gary Hooper, Jordan Murray, Facundo Pereyra, Naorem Mahesh Singh, Shaiborlang Kharpan

ATK Mohun Bagan: Goalkeepers: Arindam Bhattacharja, Dheeraj Singh, Arsh Shaikh, Aryan Niraj Lamba, Avilash Paul; Tiri, Sandesh Jhingan, Prabir Das, Pritam Kotal, Subhasish Bose, Sumit Rathi, Boris Singh Thangjam; Edu Garcia, Javier Hernandez, Carl McHugh, Glan Martins, Michael Soosairaj, Jayesh Rane, Pronay Halder, Bradden Inman, Michael Regin, Sahil Sheikh, Ningombam Engson Singh, Md. Fardin Ali Molla; Roy Krishna, David Williams, Manvir Singh

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