This is the third season when the southerners will face the Kolkata outfit in the season opener.

As the ISL 2019-20 season get underway, Kerala Blasters host league rivals ATK in the season opener for the third time in-a-row. With Bollywood stars Disha Patani and Tiger Shroff, along with Dulquer Salmaan, set to take part in the ISL opening ceremony, fans will be hoping for an entertaining evening as the Manjappada and ATK, who have clashed in the ISL final twice, kick-off the campaign.

Under new boss Eelco Schattorie, Kerala Blasters have revamped their squad from the previous season, parting ways with all of their foreign players and bringing in familiar names like Barthomelew Ogbeche, Mario Arques, and Sergio Cidoncha. Addition of Indian players like Samuel Lalmuanpuia gives the fans more reasons to be excited for the new season.

On the other hand, ATK have brought back Antonio Lopez Habas for his second stint with the Kolkata-based club, with the Spaniard having served as their manager between 2014 and 2016. The Kolkata outfit have also significantly bolstered their side, signing Australian A-League stars Roy Krishna and David Williams along with domestic players like Dheeraj Singh, Anas Edathodika, Jobby Justin and Michael Soosairaj.

The Stakes

Off the back of disappointing seasons, both Kerala Blasters and ATK will be looking to commence the new campaign with a win.

While Blasters finished last season ninth in the table with 15 points, having won just two games, ATK, who managed six wins and six draws from their 18 games, were positioned sixth in the table come the end of the season. With Schattorie at the helm, the Manjappada will be hoping to claim their first ISL trophy this term. ATK, on the hand, have set their eyes on asserting their supremacy in the league once again.

The history of the two sides cannot be denied on this occasion. Not only have the sides faced off in the openers of the past two seasons – that saw the Blasters win one and the other end in a draw, but also they locked horns in the final of the tournament in 2014 and 2016, with ATK registering victories on both occasions.

Habas, who is returning to the Kolkata-based club for his second spell, will want to lead the side to their third league title, while Schattorie will want to prove that his partial success with NorthEast United was not a fluke.

Considering all the factors, neither of the team will want to drop points come Sunday as there is certainly a lot to play for.

Coaches’ Corner

Eelco Schattorie (Kerala Blasters)

“I think ATK has a very strong squad, especially upfront and in midfield. I think they have even Indian players who can score goals and in the end, football is about scoring goals. They have a lot of scoring ability in the team but as I said it’s an opening game. It’s very difficult to get information on the other team in pre-season,” Eelco Schattorie said in the press conference on Saturday.

Read the full press conference here.

Antonio Lopez Habas (ATK)

“We have to respect each and every opposition. It is difficult to have a opinion about the teams before the start of the tournament,” Antonio Lopez Habas said.

“The process is to solidify your defence and then go for attack in transitions. The main magic word in football is balance,” he added.

Read Antonio Lopez Habas’ full interview here.

Team News

Kerala Blasters received a severe blow earlier this week after it was revealed that star defender Sandesh Jhingan will miss the season with an ACL tear, leading the club to bring in experienced centre-back Raju Gaikwad. However, Gaikwad is not fully match fit and might not start against ATK on Sunday evening.

Former Blasters defender Anas Edathodika will miss the game for ATK as he is serving a suspension, having received a red card in his last match for the Manjappada against Indian Arrows in the Super Cup earlier this year, while Jobby Justin is also unavailable, with the striker still having three more games to complete the six-match ban he received in I-League last term.

Head To Head

The two teams have faced off 12 times so far. Of these, ATK have won four, Kerala Blasters two and the rest six matches ended in draws.

Man To Watch

Bartholomew Ogbeche (Kerala Blasters)

The former Nigeria international racked up 12 goals from 18 games for Schattorie’s NorthEast United last season, missing out on the Golden Boot by four goals. This time, Ogbeche has replaced Sandesh Jhingan as the captain of Kerala Blasters and is expected to be the side’s key man up front.

Roy Krishna (ATK)

The Fiji international was the top scorer in the Australian A-League last season, finding the back of the nets 18 times from 26 games. The 32-year-old is seen as one of the biggest signings of the season and ATK will rely heavily on the striker to score goals. Safe to say, all eyes will be on Krishna on Sunday.

Probable Line-Ups

Kerala Blasters: TP Rehenesh (GK), Rakip, Zuiverloon, Jairo, Lalruatthara; Moustapha, Jeakson, Cidoncha, Sahal, Lalmuanpuia; Ogbeche

ATK: Arindam (GK), Kotal, Johnson, Garcia, Das; Sehnaj, Hernandez, Soosairaj, Jayesh; Williams, Roy Krishna

Did You Know?

  • Anas Edathodika and Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem have switched sides from Kerala Blasters to ATK in the transfer window in the summer. While Anas is suspended for the opening game, Dheeraj is available for the picking against his former team.
  • ATK have not defeated Kerala Blasters since 2016 when they defeated the southerners in the ISL final on penalties.
  • Kerala Blasters have a 40% winning rate in their first game of the season. The southerners have won two games in the last five years, lost two and drew once.

Broadcast

The match will be shown live in seven languages across an array of 20 channels including Star Sports 1, Star Sports 1 HD, Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD, Star Sports 1 Bangla, Jalsha Movies, Jalsha Movies HD, Asianet Plus, Asianet Movies, Star Sports 1 Tamil, Vijay Super, Star Sports 1 Telugu, Maa Gold, Star Sports 1 Kannada, Suvarna Plus, Star Sports 1 Hindi, Star Sports 1 Hindi HD, Star Gold, Star Gold HD, and North East Live.

The match will also be available on Hotstar and Jio TV.