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ISL season opens in Kochi as Kerala blasters lock horns with champion ATK

Friday, Nov 17, 2017,9:57 IST By joji A A A

Kochi | New head coach Rene Meulensteen expects his Kerala Blasters team to play incisive one-touch attacking football to break through the wall of ATK’s defence in today’s Indian Super League opener here.
The Dutchman, famed for his technical coaching, hinted that he will apply the same methods in Kerala that he has always believed in: delete needless touches and play a fast brand of football to create spaces and score.
“I have always told players that they should figure out who their favourite players are in their position, see their clips and figure out what they’re doing right. If you analyse the top players, they don’t take touches that they don’t need and that creates a different rhythm and speed of play,” he said at the pre-match press conference.
“We can get that integrated into the team and see it in the games we play. It’s not easy, of course, but that is what we’re aiming for,” he added.
Kerala Blasters have so far won just once in eight meetings against the two-time champions ATK, a 2-1 victory that came three years ago.
Meulensteen will, however, have one of the players who scored in that victory in Iain Hume. At the same time, he will also be aware that the only time the Blasters have failed to win a season-opener was against ATK.
The visitors come into the game not having lost a single first away match in three seasons. They’ve also scored 11 goals against the Blasters and broke their hearts in two finals.
The odds are overwhelmingly against the home side, but Meulensteen, a former assistant of Alex Ferguson, said “the past doesn’t matter tomorrow”.
He said his team was entirely fit and he can pick whoever he wants.
This is not the case for ATK though, who will be without their star signing Robbie Keane.
But that will not play on the mind of ATK head coach Teddy Sheringham. The former Manchester United striker has enough goal poachers to choose from, with India’s Robin Singh being one of them.
In midfield, he has Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Jayesh Rane, both talented players in picking out a pass.
“We have worked hard on our defensive game, but we also want to go forward. We are going to play to win tomorrow,” said Sheringham, keeping his cards close to his chest in terms of defining what sort of approach ATK will take.
Sheringham did explain how he has prepared his team for the test of playing in Kerala.
“It’s what every boy dreams of, every player, every manager dreams of — to play in front of 60,000 fans. They won’t be supporting us tomorrow but we will know we are doing great if we can keep these amazing fans quiet.” More than anything else, the match will be a battle of one of the strongest home sides against one of the finest away sides.
The Blasters won six home matches in a row last season, while ATK won four games on the road. Kerala have had trouble in their fortress only against ATK — the only team to beat them in Kochi last year in what was a memorable season.
The match will also be a clash between two new managers with a Manchester United history.