The opening affair in the fifth edition of the Indian Super League contains the ingredients of an intense contest as old rivals ATK and Kerala Blasters FC square up at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.
The two sides share a fairly successful ISL history which has seen them meet in two finals, with the Blasters narrowly losing on both the occasions.
The results came up for discussion once again on the eve of their latest encounter forcing Blasters’ coach and former England World Cupper David James to look back at the inaugural year (2014) for the only occasion when his side beat ATK.
READ | ATK: Season preview, fixtures and squad
Of the 10 meetings between the two sides so far, ATK has won four while the Blasters outfit has managed just one. The remaining five meetings, including the last final that saw ATK winning on penalties, were drawn affairs.
Both the matches between the two last in the 2017-18 season ended in stalemates.
“I am not sure if record was bad against ATK. I am the only manager to have beaten them (in 2014). The rivalry between Kerala and ATK is the biggest in ISL. Both teams have played two finals, close ones at that. Of course, ATK have the upperhand when it comes to dominance,” James said.
James would be looking at a fairly strong line-up that includes Slovenian Matej Poplatnik and Serbian Slavisa Stojanovic in the attack. Ugandan star Keziron Kizito and Ghanaian winger Courage Pekuson will be the important names giving Blasters solidity in the creative zone.
The visiting team will be without the service of defender E. Anas, who is serving a three-match ban. This puts more responsibility on captain Sandesh Jhingan and his other Indian colleagues.
After finishing ninth among 10 teams last season, ATK, the 2016 champion, is trying to regroup under the astute guidance of its experienced coach Steve Coppell. The Englishman looked a bit worried about the absence of his Nigerian striker Kalu Uche, who is held up owing to visa issues, but ATK has been able to string together a more versatile side where it has another crafty attacker in Spaniard Manuel Lanzarote.
“For the last two years, I might not have had the players who could give that something extra in the final third. This time, we have Lanzarote, Everton, Kalu and Balwant (Singh) who could do that with the ball. I will do my best to give them opportunities but it is all about balance in the team,” said Coppell.
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