14:30 GMT, Thursday 8th February, Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (Kolkata, India), Sab TV UK
It’s been a trying season for the defending champions. Separation in partnerships, losing players to injuries and sacking a manager all in one campaign has seen ATK languish with only three wins in 13 games this season.
Their form at home has been disastrous with only one win in six home games. And now, they are set to host a confident Kerala Blasters squad who come into this one having won two straight. There’s also the small matter of complying with ISL regulations which prohibits teams from letting interim head coaches manage more than three games in a season.
Ashley Westwood is the current holder of the title and has already overseen three matches. Amidst all these changes, it will be interesting to see how the champions react and who/what await ATK in this new controversy.
The Blasters now sit in the sixth spot trailing fourth-placed Jamshedpur by two points. David James and the squad will be eager to leap over Jamshedpur and finally secure a top-four spot in the table.
Last Time Out
ATK 0-2 Bengaluru FC (Indian Super League)
It was the third successive loss under new coach Ashley Westwood and four losses on the trot overall. The scoreline tells a different story than what transpired, but it keeps with the narrative that ATK lacks finishing ability in the final third.
Incidentally, their famed defense has faded and the keeper which was retained based on his showing in the previous seasons has started leaking goals. It was Jordi Montel’s awful attempt at clearing Udanta Singh’s cross which gifted the visitors their first of the match, while Bengaluru's second goal came from a counter-attack in the second half which saw Erik Paartalu expose Jordi Montel’s lack of pace against Miku.
While the hosts were the more dominant side creating five shots on goal and keeping the majority of the possession, Bengaluru keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu played spoilsport and put up a few brilliant saves.
Jayesh Rane had a few chances but failed to put them away while Martin Paterson missed Rane’s cross in front of goal to put ATK on the board. ATK has been creating chances but their luck in front of goal has not been getting any better.
FC Pune City 1-2 Kerala Blasters (Indian Super League)
The Blasters pulled off a surprise win against the Stallions despite ceding possession and allowing Marcelinho and Co. to put more shots on their goal.
Their ability to quickly shift into counter-attack came in good use and while Iain Hume had to be replaced due to injury, CK Vineeth and Jackichand Singh stepped up to fire home stunning goals in the second half.
Marcelinho laboured to score but despite hitting the woodwork twice, had to leave the pitch empty-handed. The home side was awarded a penalty in the 79th minute after Kerala keeper Subhashis Roy’s attempt to stop Alfaro saw him go down in the box. Alfaro converted from the spot, equalising Singh’s stunning 58-minute strike.
The match looked set to end as a draw when CK Vineeth turned the ball around in front of the 18-yard box and fired a curling effort which beat Vishal Kaith, sealing the three points for David James’s team.
Robbie Keane and Ryan Taylor return to the starting lineup, but defender Tom Thorpe and Zequinha are still out with injury. Paterson will have to be more clinical in front of goal if ATK want to have a chance in this game against the streaking Blasters.
Kerala Blasters Lineup
Iain Hume looks set to miss the match with injury and Gudjon Baldvinsson might take his place in the starting lineup. The rest of the Blasters' lineup remains unchanged and if they put in another effort as they did last week, should come away with a victory.
Key Battle: Ryan Taylor (ATK) vs Courage Pekuson (Kerala Blasters)
Ryan Taylor has been playing at the base of the midfield to accommodate for Conor Thomas’s shift to centre-back since Tom Thorpe's injury. He has been instrumental in providing stability to the midfield and intercepting attacks from the opposition. Additionally, his ability to spray passes up the field and provide long balls makes him an ideal candidate for the deep-lying role.
Taylor will be going up against Ghana’s Courage Pekuson. Peksuon plays in the number ten position for the Blasters, linking up with wingers CK Vineeth, Jackichand Singh and probable number nine starter for the game, Gudjob Baldvinsson.
The Ghanian is pacy down the middle and adept at playing through passes as well as orchestrating play through the wings. Taylor will have the physical advantage in the battle, but Pekuson’s pace might give him a hard time.
Luck seems to have deserted the champions
Once a staple of the top four, ATK now lie in a lowly eighth position. The defending champions have suffered one mishap after another from before the start of the season. Robbie Keane and Ryan Taylor’s return sparked attacking intent in their gameplay, but lady luck seems to be absent from their side.
Despite creating some solid chances and putting up five shots on goal, the defending champions could not breach the Bengaluru defense. Gurpreet Singh was beaten on more occasion than once, but the woodwork played folly to deny Jayesh Rane his opening goal.
Similarly, Martin Paterson managed to miss an easy tap-in in the second half from Rane’s cross and Bengaluru still managed to emerge unhurt from the ensuing scramble. The question remains, how long will this run last?
How will the Blasters fare without Iain Hume
The Blasters return to form conveniently coincided with Iain Hume’s return to scoring ways. But now that the Canadian is sidelined with an injury, who will take up the scoring mantle? Baldvinsson is yet to make an impact for the Kerala side, having signed during the January transfer window.
CK Vineeth has a penchant for late goals and has already scored four tallies this season, but his consistency still remains a problem. Similarly, Jackichand Singh is an impact player on the wings, but not so much an out-and-out goalscorer.
The other two goalscorers for the Blasters this season have been Deependra Negi and Courage Pekuson. Negi remained on the bench in their last match, despite making quite an impact in his first appearance and Pekuson will most likely play the creator role.
PREDICTION: ATK 0-1 Kerala Blasters
ATK's horrid home record looks set to continue. With defensive lapses and lack of luck in front of goal, this match looks likely to be a sealed deal for the Blasters.
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