Another season of the Indian Super League (ISL) and another inaugural match involving Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan. Whenever these two teams take on each other, it would bring back colourful memories of the battles between Kerala and Bengal in the Santosh Trophy. The mighty Bengal have an impressive head-to-head record against Kerala. The story is no different in the ISL.
It is a fact that ATK Mohun Bagan hold an edge over the other teams in the fray. Being a team looking to put behind them the disappointing campaign last year, I am happy with the way Blasters played their opening game. The coach could transform the set of individuals brought in from different sides into a cohesive unit. Remember, they played against a side that featured in the AFC Cup. ATK have a settled look about themselves as their main players have been together for a long time. They could plug some obvious chinks in their armour and beef up their squad by bringing in some excellent players.
On the other side of the pitch was a team which was looking to adapt to a new system and redeem themselves this season. None of Blasters's foreign recruits had prior experience of playing in the ISL. Same was the case with the gaffer. It will take at least three-four games for them to overcome this starting trouble.
ATK's 4-2 win testified to the individual quality they possess in each position. Liston Colaco's brilliant goal was a great example.
The performance of Adrian Luna and Sahal Abdul Samad in the midfield is the biggest takeaway for Blasters from this match. Although they held an edge over ATK in ball possession and passing, Blasters left themselves exposed to Antonio Lopez Habas's counter-attacking tactics. Coach Ivan Vukomanovic will have to reorganise his defensive line in the upcoming matches.
Blasters have one of the best strikers in the league in Alvaro Vazquez Garcia. The midfielders need to ensure that they feed him in positions where he can put the ball in the back of the net. In fact, playing against a tough opponent in the season opener can greatly help you improve. I hope the loss will give Blasters the motivation to train harder and get themselves ready for the battles ahead.
(The writer is a former captain of the Indian football team)