The Hero Indian Super League is around the corner, and with teams returning from their pre-season camps in distant lands, the owners have already fired the shots for the 2015 edition of Hero ISL, through their banters.
Atletico de Kolkata, after a grueling pre-season in Madrid, are returning to Kolkata on 24th September and the players will be licking their lips to get the ball rolling in this yeara s edition in an away fixture against last yeara s league stage winners, Chennaiyin FC. The defending champions, Atletico de Kolkata, had defeated Mumbai City FC in their opening fixture last year and went on a nine-match unbeaten run that set the base for their title challenge last year.
ATK, as they are popularly known, will look to go on a similar run this year also, but they are expected to have a tougher time this time around with all eight teams taking pre-season quite seriously. While ATK had started the previous season brilliantly, their season went downhill as the matches progressed and at one point in time were uncertain to reach the semi-final stage. The Red and Whites, would be looking to avoid such a run, as they barely scraped into the knockout stage, if they are hoping to retain the title.
Goalkeepers: Juan Calatayud, Amrinder Singh, Kunzang Bhutia
Atletico de Kolkata under Antonio LA?pez Habas prefer a safety-first approach and with Apoula Edel and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, ATK had two able custodians who could help them in this. ATK preferred to upgrade over both Apoula Edel a one of the stars in last yeara s finala and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, and thus released them during the post season.
Juan Calatayud, the former La liga player, was signed up and is now expected to be the first choice due to his experience. The signing looks like an upgrade, but careful introspection suggests that Calatayud was mostly a second choice during his time in Spain barring his stint for Hercules CF. Despite this Calatayud can be a great mentor for the two young goalkeepers who were signed to fill the quota of development player. Amrinder Singh, 22, will play as the back-up for Calatayud and will step in as and when required while Kunzang Bhutia, 21, will be the third choice and will have learning experience during his stint in ISL.
Defenders: Rino Anto, Denzil Franco, Arnab Mondal, Augustin Fernandes, Lalchhawnkima Josemi, Tiri, Syed Rahim Nabi, Nallappan Mohanraj
Atletico de Kolkata seem to have made some smart purchases during the off-season, thus upgrading the defence that won them the title. Denzil Franco, the marauding right-back, who got injured during the previous season, was the first choice right for back last year but will now have to fight for his position against Rino Anto, who recently made his debut for the National team. The mini battle will be an interesting fight to enjoy for the fans and will depend on Francoa s recovery. Franco, though, will be expected to put in a shift when Anto is called up for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Habas has quite a few options at the centre of the defence and is expected to mix them up during the season. The ISL fixtures come in thick and fast, and with almost negligible time for some respite, Habas is expected shuffle his pack quite frequently. Arnab Mondal and Josemi are expected to be the first choice for ATK but Augustin Fernandes and Lalchhawnkima would be excellent deputies when Arnab Mondal leaves for national duties during the season. However, Habas needs to be careful with Augustin as he has a habit of going into rash challenges and getting sent off for them.
Tiri, 23, from Atletico Madrid is quite a versatile player and will deputise for Josemi as centre-back. Tiria s versatility means that he can also play as left-back but with 6 foreigners at a time in the field for each team, ita s expected that Tiri would see a lot of bench time. The left-back position still remains a cause for concern as neither Nallappan Mohanraj nor Syed Rahim Nabi arouse confidence. Mohanraj, the younger among the duo, is expected to have more game time, but only because Nabi is past his prime and is quite injury prone these days. Pundits were perplexed when ATK announced that they retained Mohanraj despite his limited abilities.
Midfield: Borja Fernandez, Ofentse Nato, Javi Lara, Sameehg Doutie, Jamie Gavilan, Valdo, Arata Izumi, Jewel Raja, Clifford Miranda.
Borja Fernandez, one of the key midfielders in the first season for ATK, is expected to remain a key clog in Habasa well oiled machine. Borja was a regular in La liga for SD Eibar during his off-season loan and is set to continue in the role of midfield enforcer in the second season as well. Javi Lara, also a regular for SD Eibar, was signed up during the off season and is expected to partner Borja in the centre of the park. Habas will look to rekindle their SD Eibar chemistry for ATK and should they click, it could very well be troublesome for the opponents. Ofentse Nato, another midfield enforcer, will be sent in place of Javi Lara when ATK are leading, to kill the game and ensure a victory for ATK. His performance will be important as ATK look to convert those last moment draws into victories.
Jewel Raja, former India international, is expected to partner Borja and Javi Lara in the midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Sameehg Doutie and Clifford Miranda, the old warhorse, are expected to play on the right and left wings respectively. Baljit Singh and Jamie Gavilan are expected to alternate with Doutie and Miranda as the fixtures come in thick and fast. Valdo, 34, will be expected to slow down the tempo of the game and retain control of the game. Similar to Valdo, Arata Izumi will be alternated with Jewel Raja to reduce the fatigue of the players.
Forward: Helder Postiga, Iain Hume, Nadong Bhutia, Sushil Kumar Singh.
Helder Postiga is a stellar marquee signing for Atletico de Kolkata both in terms of his popularity and age. Postiga played for Portugal in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and is one of the players who might be taking home the golden boot award home at the end of the season. Luis Garcia, who was last yeara s marquee for ATK, came out of retirement to play in the ISL but that hardly made a difference, so the expectations of Postiga are quite high. Iain Hume, who was last yeara s best performer, signed up with ATK during the off season and is a definite improvement over Fikru who raised quite a few eyebrows off the field. Indian forwards Nadong Bhutia and Sushil Kumar Singh leave a lot to be desired and have been primarily signed as back-ups
Antonio Lopez Habas, who won the Indian Super League with ATK in his first attempt, has been retained as coach for the Kolkata side. During the off-season, there were some reports in the local media about some friction between Habas and the owners, but the management quickly settled their differences and did a good job with recruiting players.
Atletico de Kolkata has selected quite a balanced squad with a back-up available for each position which is bound to come in handy with the traveling and matches almost the every other day. ATK is expected to rotate their squad heavily this time around so as to prevent a second leg collapse like last year due to fatigue. The foreigners, compared to the ones last season, are of a higher standard and younger, so one can expect a faster paced game from ATK. The Hard Tackle predicts a top four finish for the defending champions in the second edition of the Hero Indian Super League.