Kerala Blasters Football Club will host arch-rivals ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here for the opening match of the Indian Super League on Sunday. The two teams have a long history, having met in two finals (2014 and 2016), and the clash is one of the most-awaited fixtures in the Indian football calendar.
The encounter is set to witness several key battles all around the pitch, but will perhaps be highlighted by the one in the dugout between Eelco Schattorie and Antonio Lopez Habas - two very highly-regarded tacticians.
ATK had the upper hand on Kerala in the past, but their last victory over their rivals came way back in the Hero ISL 2016 final. Since then, Kerala won one and the remaining three fixtures were drawn.
Kerala have strengthened considerably this transfer window, roping in some proven stars from the ISL 2018-19, like Bartholomew Ogbeche, Gianni Zuiverloon, Mario Arques and Sergio Cidoncha. New signings like Senegalese defensive midfielder Mouhamadou Gning, Brazilian defender Jairo Rodrigues, Cameroonian striker Raphael Messi Bouli have also been added to the squad along with a strong batch of Indian contingent, which include goalkeepers T.P. Rehenesh and Bilal Khan, striker, attacking midfielders Samuel Lalmanpuia, Rahul KP, and others.
Schattorie's big concern will be in defence. While the defensive personnel at his disposal do look formidable on paper, a long-term injury to Sandesh Jhingan and minor knocks to Gianni Zuiverloon and Jairo Rodrigues will add to Schattorie's woes.
With Sandesh out, Gianni and Jairo are primed to strike up a partnership at the heart of the Kerala defence.
Talking about ATK, the two-time ISL winners have brought in a host of new faces, including some big foreign names in A-League 2018-19 Golden Boot winner Roy Krishna and his former Wellington Phoenix strike partner David Williams. The duo accounted for 29 goals for the 'nixes' last season and are almost nailed on to start with Krishna taking up a central position and Williams operating from out wide.
Former Jamshedpur FC sensation Michael Soosairaj is likely to take up the other flank, with Edu Garcia operating in the playmaker's role in the hole, making for a devastating top four. Pronay Halder and Sehnaj Singh may make up the two-man defensive cover in midfield.