Blasters-Bagan clash to kick-start event

Blasters-Bagan clash to kick-start event

ATK Mohun Bagan players hard at training before their Indian Super League opener against Kerala Blasters on Friday. Twitter

After eight months, during which the world went through a facelift, the Indian Super League will kick-off with Kerala Blasters hosting ATK Mohun Bagan on Friday.

A clash that saw a sold out Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi last season will now be played in the backdrop of silence at the GMC Stadium Bambolim in Goa.

With the Covid-19 pandemic still lurking around, there isn't much that can be predicted. In a year where the world put its plans on hold, the uncertainties of life will make for a harder league.

Already, NorthEast United FC are dealing with Covid positives in their camp. While all precautions are being taken, positive tests are a reality as evidenced by the European leagues.

With a curtailed pre-season, injuries too will be a worry. This will bring into focus squad depth while the five substitution rule will benefit the fringe players and tactically suave coaches.

On the face of it, ATK-MB look among the favourites. However, much will depend on how they handle the added pressure of defending the badge of a legacy club and it's demanding fan base. But if there is any team which can, it's them. Not only did they hold onto their players, they’ve strengthened with the addition of Sandesh Jhingan, Tiri and Subhasish Bose in defence. With the AFC campaign on the cards, Antonio Habas has ensured he has cover in all positions.

Their opponents in the opener, Blasters on the other hand, have hit the reset button yet again with the squad. It remains to be seen if new manager Kibu Vicuna, who is steadfast in his belief over possession football, had enough time to imbibe his philosophy on his players.

A team well known to Vicuna and Bagan is SC East Bengal, who open their ISL chapter with a Kolkata derby. A late entrant to ISL, EB and it's coach Robbie Fowler have their work cut out if they are to make the playoffs. With an experienced squad, rotation will be imperative if Fowler hopes to make a successful debut in Indian football.

The other early favourites are Mumbai City FC. Armed with the wealth and knowledge of City Football Group, MCFC have packed their roster with talent.

Meanwhile Lobera's old club FC Goa has been forced to reinvent the team, especially with the AFC Champions League this season. After signing Juan Ferrando as head coach, the Gaurs have added some great quality with Australian James Donachie and Spaniards Ivan Gonzalez and Igor Angulo. With their local Indian contingent already among the best in the league, the new look Goa has the potential to make a big impact.

Among the other key players will be Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin. While BFC, like ATK, have a settled squad, much depends on their new attackers Kristian Opseth and Cleiton Silva. While Carles Cuadrat's men will no doubt be defensively sound, it's the goal scoring that needs to be addressed. Sunil Chhetri too is a year older and it will be interesting to see if his team-mates can reduce the scoring burden on his shoulders.

Among the others, NorthEast, Jamshedpur FC, Odisha FC, Hyderabad FC have all undergone big changes. All come with new head coaches and will look to enter the play-off spot.