Last year’s finalists Blasters, ATK to square off

The battle between last year’s champions Atletico de Kolkata and runners-up Kerala Blasters, and it comes with a heady mix. Strangely, the two are in the bottom half of the eight-team table and when they meet in the Indian Super League’s ninth-round clash at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday evening, the teams will be desperately going all out for a victory as they race for a play-off spot.

All eyes will be on Kolkata’s Iain Hume, who was the darling of the Blasters’ fans when he played for the Kochi side last season.   -  ISL Sportzpics

This is the big clash. The battle between last year’s champions Atletico de Kolkata and runners-up Kerala Blasters, and it comes with a heady mix.

Strangely, the two are in the bottom half of the eight-team table and when they meet in the Indian Super League’s ninth-round clash at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday evening, the teams will be desperately going all out for a victory as they race for a play-off spot.

And that should produce some very exciting stuff.

Surprisingly, despite lying on the last rung, the odds are heavily stacked in favour of the Blasters. Having won their last game against the then league leaders FC Pune City, the home boys are on a high, they are also a lot fresher with a five-day break after their last game while the Kolkata players have had just two after their last game, a 1-0 loss to NorthEast United FC.

The home boys are also a transformed lot and their ISL-high 32 attempts at the goal in the previous encounter should worry any opposition. They will look to maintain the momentum against the struggling ATK, a side they lost to 1-2 last month in the away game.

“Every game now is going to be a big game, you got to go with the right attitude. We are confident that we can go out there and grab three points,” said Terry Phelan, the Blasters’ head coach on Monday. “But anybody can beat anybody in the ISL, so we’ve got to make sure that we are ready to go out and win the game.”

Spotlight on Hume

However, all eyes will be on the rival striker, Kolkata’s Iain Hume, who was the darling of the Blasters’ fans when he played for the Kochi side last season. The former Canadian international, who was lovingly addressed as Hume ‘etta’ (brother in Malayalam) by the fans here, scored a hat-trick against Mumbai City FC early this month and the Blasters will be keen to restrict the flow of passes to him. The fleet-footed Japanese-born Indian Arata Izumi is another player the Blasters will be keeping an eye on.

Kolkata, currently in the sixth spot with 10 points against the Blasters’ eight, is going through a horrible phase. They have lost four of its last five matches and injuries to key players, including its marquee signing Helder Postiga, have only added to the team’s worry.

“Both of us need a win, but we have the time and we have the points to recover. We need to be calm and not be nervous,” said Antonio Habas, Kolkata’s Spanish coach.

Both the teams will be losing two Indian players – Blasters’ defender Sandesh Jhingan and midfielder Cavin Lobo and Kolkata’s defenders Arnab Mondal and Augustin Fernandes – who are now preparing for the November 12 World Cup qualifier against Guam.

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