Kerala Blasters vs. ATK Preview

Best Chance in 3 Years for KBFC to Beat ATK

This is a big one, folks. It’s important for many reasons. The obvious is that it is the first match of this season. The next is that it is a repeat of the last year’s final in terms of teams and venue both. It is also important for Teddy and Meulee to start the season on the front foot. The most crucial reason though is the rivalry. Oh, the rivalry…

These two teams are possibly the most successful in the history of Indian Super League in terms of consistency. They’ve contested two of the three finals. However, the rivalry really came to a boil last season when ATK beat KBFC fifth time in 8 meetings at, you guessed it, the Tuskers’ home ground. That must’ve burned and KBFC fans must be itching for revenge.

Both teams have huge following in the country. No one loves football more than the Bengalis but ATK has to share the adulation with the far more popular Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. On the other side, no one loves their team more than the KBFC fans. They have the entire state behind them. This is also their best chance to get that revenge looking at their squad.

Kerala Blasters Team and Strategy

One thing is clear. This is Rene Meulensteen’s team through and through. The way the recruitment has gone, you can tell that Meulee got carte blanche with his personnel. His high profile signings are all players he has personally worked with. They’re also players he trusts implicitly.

I think he has tried to create a Meulee core to the team. It isn’t something to frown upon. In fact, we should appreciate it because it will make managing easier for Meulee. And if Meulee is comfortable, we will not only see results but also have fun along the way.

You see, Meulee is an attack minded coach. He likes his teams to get the ball down and play quick, attacking, cerebral football. In other words, it’s the type of football I love. The problem Meulee will face here, though, is fitness. He has himself admitted that his team is around four weeks away from full fitness.

This doesn’t bode well for this game. You can be sure ATK have no fitness issues. They’ve never had fitness problems in the last 3 seasons of ISL. Still, here’s how I think KBFC will set up and play.

KBFC Attack

One equation: Berbatov + Hume = Mayhem!!

If you add Vineeth and Jackichand on the wings, you may even get some very interesting derivatives. We haven’t even taken Courage Pekuson and Mark Sifneos into account yet. Embarrassment of riches.

I’ll admit it. My mouth is watering at the prospect of Hume and Berbatov together in the same team. Can you imagine the first touch wizard and the all-time scoring leader of the ISL together?

All that interchanging between the primary striker and the hole behind him?

All that ghosting past defenders’ shoulders?

All those give and go’s? All those first touch passes?

Orgasms anybody? Berbatov and Hume are distributing them free for all.

Seriously, though, how these two combine will define how KBFC fares this season. If they fuck up, the team will stumble. If they buck up, the team will fly. I don’t expect KBFC to whip in a lot of crosses or launch long balls forward. Everything will be nice and tidy for Meulee’s KBFC.

KBFC Midfield

This is where experts say Meulee has made mistakes. They say: he doesn’t have a good midfielder. They point at the lack of a decent defensive midfielder to dominate the midfield. I don’t agree with their assessment. I think Meulee has pulled a fast one on all of us.

Meulee has plans to play Wes Brown in defensive midfield position. Brown has always had a creative streak to him. His deep wide crosses and through balls were particularly useful when he used to play in the full-back role for Manchester United. I think that is precisely what Meulee wants to utilise but from the defensive midfield position.

Fun fact: Meulee was instrumental in making Brown play the full-back role under Fergie. He even separately helped him become a better attacker in that position. Brown admitted to this himself.

Brown will be accompanied by one of Siam Hanghal and Milan Singh. It could be either depending on the opposition and their respective forms. I would think Singh would start though.

The beauty of this is that Brown can help in defence when the team is under pressure while still launching attacks.

KBFC Defence

Goalkeeping may be a little bit of a problem for KBFC. They have three keepers. Paul Rachubka, Sandeep Nandy, and Subhashish Roy Chowdhury. Rachubka is another Manchester UTD alumnus. I think he’s the first choice with the backup keeper a faceoff between Nandy and Chowdhury. Nandy is 42 while Chowdhury is not as experienced. One will coach the other, you would think.

In defence, the ever-present and ever reliable Sandesh (if he was playing in Bengal he would be Shawn desh) Jhingon should pair up with Nemanja Lakic Pesic. Pesic is tall and burly defender who possesses some good skills on the ball. He will help Brown with distribution from defensive positions while Sandesh does the dirty work.

On one side of the defence we’ll see Rino Anto while the other end should be reserved for Pritam Kumar Singh

ATK Team and Strategy

Two other Manchester UTD alumni will be found in the other dugout in the form of Teddy Sheringham and Ashley Westwood. Sheringham is the coach while Westwood is the technical director at ATK. Sheringham is a mystery but he has come out and said that he “would prefer a short, passing game”.

I don’t believe him.

I think this is mind games. I don’t believe for one second that ATK will play short passing game. They don’t have the players for it, other than Robbie Keane. Keane by the way is injured and unavailable for around a fortnight. What “short, passing game”, eh?

Incidentally, how many years do you think ATK will start their seasons with an over the hill striker who plays less than 50% (::cough::Postiga::cough::cough) of the season’s games? How will “Amar Tomar…oops Team Kolkata” set up for this game? Let’s see.

ATK Attack

With Keane out, Sheringham doesn’t have the players for the short game. All his strikers are +6 feet – Robin Singh, Zequinha, and Njazi Kuqi. Their specialty is heading or holding the ball up. Even if Keane was fit, ATK would’ve played with him in the hole behind the striker to lap up lay off and head-ons. With him not being there, someone else will take that position (I don’t know who, probably Jayesh Rane or Carl Baker).

They’ll start with short passes till they can get in a position to launch one at their target man. Or, they’ll pass the ball around till they can free one of their wingers to whip a beau of a cross in. They will use the full width of the pitch to stretch the play.

ATK Midfield

In midfield, ATK has the perfect player for the style of play described above – Eugeneson Lyngdoh. Lyngdoh is a long ball expert who can spread it from free play or from free kicks. He will be central (snigger) to ATK’s playing style. I won’t be surprised if everything went through him.

Lyngdoh will be accompanied by Conor (what’s with the single n?) Thomas. Thomas should be a utility player for Sheringham. He’s young, mobile, and probably good at breaking up play. He’ll be the hardworking foil to Lyngdoh’s finesse.

It is also possible that Carl Baker will occupy the position in front of these two midfielders. Whether Baker acts as an attacking midfielder or shadow striker will probably depend on the situation.

ATK Defence

Jussi Jaaskelainen should be a foregone conclusion between the posts. He’s a good insurance policy to have going for you. You can also see him as a safety net if that is what you prefer. Jaaskelainen is old but age is not that big a variable for goalkeepers. He’s tall, experienced, and very dependable. So, no issues there for ATK.

In defence, Sheringham will have Jordi Figueras Montel and Thomas Joseph Thorpe (Another Manchester UTD alumnus, whadyaknow!). Both these boys are tall defenders who will do a no nonsense job for ATK.

There may be communication problems between the two owing to their different footballing education. One is Spanish while the other English, that should reveal a lot to you. Still, one is from Real Madrid while the other from Man UTD, something that should help.

On their right side, we should get to see the Pailan Arrows graduate Prabir Das and on the left, Keegan Pereira.

Prediction Time!

I don’t think ATK will have a good time today. I do believe that the KBFC fans will act as the extra midfielder even in their reduced (40,000) capacity. On top of this, KBFC has a better team, even though it is only on paper for now.

ATK can never be discounted though. They’re a very sturdy, consistent, and efficient team. They should be able to hold their own. I expect a 2-1 win to KBFC with an outside of Berbatov grabbing a goal…

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