The reigning champions will face stiffer competition as they look to become the first team to retain their crown.
Last Season’s Performance
The Kolkata franchise displayed a series of impressive performances last year, winning their second Indian Super League (ISL) in the process. Although, in many of their games, ATK conceded several silly goals, some of which snatched important points away. their gameplay rotated from the middle of the park, their midfield stood out in the entire tournament. However, their defence, on the other hand, let them down on multiple occasions. Marquee signing Helder Postiga could not step up to the plate and injuries ruined any chance of the Portuguese becoming an integral part of the team.
The two times ISL champions kicked off their pre-season against Dubai Irish Club on 23rd October in Dubai. The Red and Whites defeated the UAE side 2-1. ATK played their second friendly game against Dibba Al-Hisn Sports & Culture Club on 27th October, resulting in a 3-2 win for the Indian side.
ATK also played two more friendly games against Dubai All-Stars and Turkmenistan U-19 National Football Team on their tour, winning both the games before returning to Kolkata on 4th November.
Sheringham seeks to build on ATK’s winning mentality.
The former Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur forward Teddy Sheringham was appointed as the new head coach of ATK earlier this year. Since his appointment, Sheringham has had the backing of the new Director of Football Ashely Westwood, who has helped him understand the current scenario of football in India. Known to be an attack-minded coach, Sheringham was appointed by Premier League side West Ham United in 2014, followed by another coaching spell with League Two outfit Stevenage FC.
Despite his prior experience in coaching, Sheringham is yet to establish himself as a top coach unlike some of his counterparts in the ISL. The 51-year-old is accustomed to playing an all-attacking game, a mixture of English counter-attacking and German classic powerplay methods. In his time with Stevenage, Sheringham extensively used attacking formations, primarily 4-2-3-1, making his side play as a cohesive counter-attacking unit. The Englishman is also known for his distaste for traditional wingers, which he manages to cover with two forwards behind the sole striker.
Ins: The defending champions have gone an extra mile to assemble one of the strongest squads in the ISL. The Sourav Ganguly co-owned outfit haVE retained Debjit Majumder as their goalkeeper, yet they have brought in Premier League veteran Jussi Jaaskelainen (GK) from Wigan Athletic and Kunzang Bhutia to be the options under the bars. The Kolkata franchise had developed a reputation of conceding silly goals last season. Keeping the fact in mind, ATK have brought in defenders such as Ashutosh Mehta, Augustin Fernandes, Jordi Montel and Nallappan Mohanraj. Although, fans and pundits alike have doubted the Kolkata franchise’s decision to bring Anwar Ali, who had suffered a heart attack not so long ago, onboard. United academy graduate Tom Thorpe has also joined the franchise, providing a more solid option at centre-back in the season to come.
In the midfield, ATK have put up a brilliant display of experience as well as young blood in players such as Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Hitesh Sharma. Apart from these two, they have also roped in Bipin Singh Thounaojam, Carl Baker, Conor Thomas, Darren Caldeira, Ronald Singh Shaikhom, Rupert Nongrum and Shankar Sampingiraj.
Arguably. one of the best attacking lineups in the country, Jayesh Rane, Zequinha, Njazi Kuqi and Robin Singh will all don the Red and White kit this season. The Kolkata-based side has also roped in former Republic of Ireland and Liverpool forward Robbie Keane as their marquee player, who is set to become an invaluable member of the side.
Outs: As per the existing guidelines of the ISL, the Kolkata side decided to retain two players from their previous season’s squad. Apart from Majumder and Prabir Das, the rest of the squad was shown the door, which included some of the biggest names in Indian football right now. Here is the list of the players who left the Kolkata franchise this season:
Dani Mallo (GK), Shilton Paul (GK), Arnab Mondal, Pritam Kotal, Kingshuk Debnath, Robert Lalthlamuana, Pablo Gallardo, Tiri, Abinash Ruidas, Bikramjit Singh, Bikash Jairu, Jewel Raja, Lalrindika Ralte, Bidyananda Singh, Javi Lara, Sameehg Doutie, Borja Fernandez, Stephen Pearson, Ofentse Nato, Helder Postiga, Iain Hume, Juan Belencoso.
Formation and Tactics
With the appointment of a new head coach in Sheringham, the Kolkata-based side is expected to show attacking flair in their gameplay this season. Sheringham, who is known for his extensive use of the 4-2-3-1 formation back since his Stevenage FC days, used a similar approach in his side’s pre-season friendly matches in the UAE this year. With a 100% winning record under his belt using the method, the Englishman looks all set to line his side up with his winning formula in the forthcoming season.
ATK’s possible lineup this season
The Kolkata franchise has retained goalkeeper Debjit Majumder and defender Prabir Das from their last season’s squad and added several qualities as their custodian and defensive options. While Debjit and Prabir both are expected to be regular starters in the goalkeeper and left back position, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Jordi Montel are expected to give both them a run for the money for the starting positions in the squad. Last season’s I-League winning defender Ashutosh Mehta is set to start in the right-back slot beside the centre-back partnership of Augustine Fernandes and Tom Thorpe.
Sheringham is expected to play a double pivot in the middle of the park with Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Conor Thomas acting as the defensive midfielders. Lyngdoh might be given the green signal at times, where he is expected to push up and make some daring runs and forward passes apart from his usual interceptions and breaking counter-attacking play.
Marquee striker Keane is expected to start as the #10, behind Indian national team striker Robin Singh, who is expected to fill up the striker’s role. Aizawl FC’s I-League winning forward Jayesh Rane and former MK Dons’ winger Carl Baker is set to operate in the right and left wide areas respectively, adding a certain attacking flair to the side.
The two times ISL winners have been making all the right noises since the players draft happened and a squad was put together. ATK currently possess arguably the best midfield in the country which consists of Lyngdoh, Thomas, Bipin Singh, Darren Caldeira among others. Added to the midfielders, the ATK has also retained last season’s goalkeeping general Majumder, who is currently being lauded as one of the best goalkeepers in India. The Kolkata franchise has also brought in Jaaskelainen, a Premier League veteran to compete for the starting place with Debjit, which will ensure a healthy presence under the ATK bars in the coming season.
Although a well-balanced side, many fans and pundits alike have criticized ATK’s decision to rope in defender Anwar Ali in their side. The former East Bengal defender suffered a heart attack earlier this year and the experts are claiming that the Indian defender will find it hard to play in the Indian Super League this season. On the other hand, Robin Singh’s tendency to miss out on easy opportunities should be the highest priority for gaffer Teddy Sheringham. The English coach is known for his aggressive approach to the game and needs to put in extra care for the Indian veteran striker if he wants his striker to regain his accuracy in one on one situations in front of the goal.
Top Three Players To Watch
An integral part of ATK’s title-winning campaign last year, the former Mohun Bagan goalkeeper was retained by the Kolkata franchise for the upcoming ISL season. The Bengali goalkeeper had delivered a number of impressive performances in last season’s Indian Super League as well as in the I-League, which has helped him come up as one of the best Indian goalkeepers around. Majumder possesses a very good one on one instinct, which helps him greatly during penalty kicks. The 29-year-old goalkeeper is also known for his passing as well as throwing sense, which helps him find nearby players on a short notice.
ATK: The football love affair
An integral part of Aizawl FC and Chennaiyin FC’s title-winning seasons, the Mumbaikar has steadily risen up in front of the Indian football fans and pundits alike. The 24-year-old has been making all the right noises in the Indian footballing arena since some time, which resulted in Atletico De Kolkata picking him up in the Draft quickly. Rane is one of the few Indian forwards of his generations who possess sudden bursts of pace, mixed with an even better vision to complement his daring runs. A playmaker in the frontlines, the former Chennaiyin forward has already proved his worth in both the Indian Super League and the I-League in the last two years. His passing sense and dribbling skills have resulted in many praises and applauds, which landed him in the pole position to win the FPAI Indian Football Awards 2015. With both Teddy Sheringham and Ashley Westwood in managerial gigs in ATK and his partner in crime from Aizawl days Ashutosh Mehta all in the team, it is just a matter of time for the young footballer to rise and shine for his newest employers this season.
A midfield general for Bengaluru FC over the years, ATK was quick to pick up the former Shillong Lajong FC midfielder in the draft. A versatile player on the pitch, Lyngdoh can operate as a defensive midfielder as well as in the no.10 role when needed. The 31-year-old is known for his interceptions of the ball and break up play which helps his sides defend against counter attacks. Lyngdoh also helps in rotating the play, where his vision and passing skills compliment him brilliantly, resulting him act as an anchor to the defence and to the forward lineup against high pressing sides.
ATK’s schedule for the season Courtesy: ISL)
What To Expect
With the appointment of Teddy Sheringham and the parting ways with Spanish giants Atletico de Madrid, ATK is currently being filled up with several expectations. The defending champions are expected to make a complete change in their gameplay, moving to a traditional English approach to the game from the gameplay with a Spanish influence which they have displayed since the inception of the league. The fans can also expect to see an attacking flair in ATK’s gameplay this season, with an active participation of the wide players unlike previous seasons.