The 2020-21 season’s opening game saw the Mariners beat the Yellow Army by a solitary goal.
The eagerly awaited Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season will finally kick-off when ATK Mohun Bagan face Kerala Blasters on Friday. This will be a repeat of last season’s opener as well, with both teams desperate to begin on the front foot.
The Mariners are one of the title favourites this season as they possess one of the most luxurious and multi-talented squads in the league. On the other hand, Kerala Blasters are embarking on a new era under Serbian-Belgian boss Ivan Vukomanovic. When these two sides take on each other, one can expect an intense fight. The game on Friday will surely kick off the season in style.
There’s a general thinking that the first games in a new league season are not really that important. For a team like ATK Mohun Bagan, that would be unacceptable. After coming up barely short last season and losing out the title to Mumbai City, the Mariners aim to make amends. They will look to build an unassailable lead at the top of the table quickly and get ahead of the pack from the get-go.
With this game being their first competitive once since the 0-6 loss to FC Nasaf in the AFC Cup, a lot rides on it. Another loss or draw could dent their momentum from the get-go. Habas’ side has to play to their strengths and prove their reputation as title contenders by coming up with a dominant display to start the season in an emphatic fashion.
For Kerala Blasters, this could finally be their much-awaited season with redemption. They have made a number of changes under Vukomanovic – both structurally as well as within the squad. With a new look foreign contingent and exciting young squad, there’s an aura of excitement around the club this season.
However, nothing will really be proven unless they can tough it out on a pitch. If they suffer a crushing defeat in the first game itself, it could disrupt all the confidence around the team. The Blasters have to keep their nerves intact for this one. They have to stick to Vukomanovic’s game plan, work hard and not give the Mariners much space to maneuver in order to start the season with a victory and prove that they will not be pushovers in this campaign.
ATK Mohun Bagan have only one slight worry, with Tiri being a doubt for this game. Kerala Blasters has a fully fit squad to choose from.
Head to Head
ATK Mohun Bagan won both their games against Kerala Blasters in their meetings last season. They won the season opener by a slender margin of 1-0, before winning the reverse fixture 3-2.
Before that, the erstwhile ATK FC had faced the Blasters on 14 occasions in the ISL. Out of those, the Kolkata giants won five games (including two ISL finals), while Kerala Blasters won four times.
ATK Mohun Bagan (3-4-3): Amrinder (GK); Kotal, McHugh, Subashish; Manvir, Lenny, Tangri, Soosairaj; Boumous, Williams, Krishna.
Kerala Blasters (4-4-2): Albino (GK); Khabra, Leskovic, Hakku, Jessel; Rahul KP, Jeakson, Sahal, Luna; Diaz, Vazquez.
Man to Watch
Hugo Boumous (ATK Mohun Bagan)
In what should be his ISL debut for ATK Mohun Bagan, all eyes will be on Hugo Boumous on Friday. He was impressive in the AFC Cup campaign for the Mariners. The talismanic midfielder helped them to win a few games with his brilliant creativity, getting involved in a few goals too.
The Moroccan was signed by the Mariners to not only cripple Mumbai City, but also add that missing spark to their midfield. Boumous will be under pressure to prove his incredible value. But he thrives under pressure and will look to make an emphatic debut for the Mariners.
Alvaro Vazquez (Kerala Blasters)
Like ATK Mohun Bagan, Kerala Blasters also have a superstar ready to make his debut for them on Friday. Alvaro Vazquez is an impressive signing for the Blasters, but he needs to prove his ability in the upcoming campaign. Having made over 150 LaLiga appearances in his career, he possesses plenty of experience.
The Spaniard is a versatile forward who can operate down the middle and as a left-winger as well. He’ll aim to make good use of his movement, trickery on the ball, and link-up style to create attractive attacking moves. But Vazquez is most potent around the final third and he’ll look to use his impressive finishing ability to torment the Mariners.
Did You Know?
- ATK Mohun Bagan conceded the least number of goals in the ISL league stages last season, only conceding 13 times in 20 games.
- Roy Krishna scored three goals in two appearances against Kerala Blasters last season. He also finished the campaign as the ISL joint-top scorer with 14 goals.
- Kerala Blasters have been involved in five ISL opening games over their history. They have only won two of them.
The game between ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters will take place at the Fatorda Stadium, Goa. Kick-off is at 7:30 pm IST. The match will be shown live on the Star Sports Network and be live streamed on Disney+Hotstar and JioTV.