Kerala Blasters FC and ATK Mohun Bagan FC kick off the 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) on the 20th of November, with the league in line to become the first major sporting event to be organised in the country post the lockdown.
Kerala Blasters against the erstwhile ATK has been one of the premier fixtures over the last six seasons of the ISL. The two football heavyweights met in last season’s opening fixture as well, when an inspired Tuskers side defeated ATK 2-1 on the back of a brace from Bartholomew Ogbeche. They repeated the feat when the two sides met again in January, emerging 1-0 winners owing to a second-half strike from Halicharan Narzary.
This season, with the merger between ATK and Mohun Bagan, fans from both Kochin and Kolkata will get to renew their rivalries albeit with a slight Green and Maroon flavour.
Erstwhile ATK and Kerala Blasters have met each other 14 times previously, with the former winning five of those fixtures while the latter has won four, along with five draws.
Kerala Blasters are one of those clubs that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. The Kochi-based outfit had to let go of several of their top players due to financial restrictions post the lockdown but have bounced back in the transfer market, making some solid signings. Tottenham Hotspur academy product and former Celtic striker Gary Hooper is one of those, and with the pressure of replacing the club’s all-time top goal-scorer Bartholomew Ogbeche in the back of his mind, the English striker would be raring to show everyone what he is all about.
Vicente Gomez is another interesting buy for the Tuskers. The Spaniard is being hailed as one of the best signings of the season due to his experience of playing for teams like UD Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna. Argentinian attacking midfielder Facundo Pereyra, Australian forward Jordan Murray and the defensive duo of Costa Nhamoinesu and Bakary Kone are the other foreign newcomers while Nishu Kumar, Jessel Carneiro, Givson Singh and Prabhsukhan Singh Gill are the notable Indian signings.
ATK Mohun Bagan
ATK Mohun Bagan have managed to hold on to the spine that made the ATK side of last season such a force to be reckoned with, including the likes of Roy Krishna, David Williams, Javier Hernandez, Carl McHugh and Edu Garcia. Antonio Lopez Habas’ side have also brought in defensive stalwarts in the form of Tiri and Sandesh Jhingan both of whom left the Tuskers for pastures anew.
The Mariners also have the youthful exuberance of Sheikh Sahil to call upon whenever needed with the young midfielder roped in after impressive performances in last season’s I-League for Mohun Bagan. Brad Inman, the midfield recruit from A-League’s Brisbane Roar is another player who will be looking to stamp his authority after a solid 2019-20 season where he scored four goals and assisted five.
While Tiri and Sandesh Jhingan will both be facing the side that they left for Kolkata, it is the opposite for the Blasters head coach Kibu Vicuna. The Spanish coach was the brains behind Mohun Bagan’s impressive I-League capture last season and will no doubt be relishing the opportunity of putting one over his former side on what will be his 49th birthday.
Apart from this, the match is also likely to feature a number of interesting battles as both sides look to start the season with a win. The battle for midfield domination is set to dictate the eventual result of the match as both sides will look to let their big name midfielders loose.
Lastly, the pace and trickery of Michael Soosairaj and the combination play between Krishna and Williams against a newly assembled Kerala back four will also be an intriguing watch as will the matchup between Habas’ preferred back-3 against Hooper, Sahal Abdul Samad, Murray and the likes.
Predicted Line-ups & Result
ATK Mohun Bagan: Arindam Bhattacharya, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Tiri, Prabir Das, Carl McHugh, Javi Hernandez, Subhashish Bose, David Williams, Roy Krishna
Kerala Blasters FC: Albino Gomes, Nishu Kumar, Bakary Kone, Costa Nhamoinesu, Jessel Carneiro, Sergio Cidoncha, Vicente Gomez, Prashanth, Sahal Abdul Samad, Rahul KP, Gary Hooper
Predicted result: KBFC 1-2 ATKMB
Given ATK Mohun Bagan's sheer strength, we expect the Kolkata giants to get a win in the ISL opener. However, it should be an interesting battle and a tightly contested affair as Kerala Blasters are no pushovers themselves.
TV Channel & Live stream
The clash between ATKMB and Kerala Blasters will be televised across Star Network and Hotstar with the kick-off scheduled at 7:30 pm. You can also catch all live updates on The Bridge.