When the ISL fixture list was announced before the 2017-18 season began last November, the opening fixture caught the eye of fans and pundits alike.
Pitted against each other were defending champions ATK and Kerala Blasters at the very venue where these two teams tussled it out for the title in the final of the 2016 edition. To add to that, both teams had several big names in their squad like Dimitar Berbatov, Robbie Keane, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Wes Brown.
To add even more oomph to the match, the fixture would see two highly regarded figures in Rene Meulensteen and Teddy Sheringham face off in the opposite dugouts. However, the match turned out to be a damp squib. Moreover, it did not feature Wes Brown nor Robbie Keane for either side due to injuries.
Alas, it was to be a sign of things to come. Both teams' season flatlined with injuries to key personnel at crucial junctures in the season. While ATK wallowed in their own misfortune and find themselves very close to being out of the reckoning for the playoff spots, Kerala Blasters have managed their injuries with a bit more proactiveness.
The Men in Yellow, as a result, are very much in with a shout of making the playoffs. The difference has been in the way Kerala Blasters have gone about managing their injuries.
They had Wes Brown injured at the start of the season while Dimitar Berbatov has rarely featured after going off injured in their 5-2 loss away to FC Goa in December. Iain Hume also missed several matches in December with an injury while CK Vineeth and Rino Anto spent time on the treatment table themselves.
Samuel Shadap and Keziron Kizito, who came into the team in January, were also injured with the latter reportedly out for the season.
If we take a closer look at ATK, they also had similar injury troubles. Marquee signing Robbie Keane missed the start of the season and later on, was injured again and is currently recuperating. Teddy Sheringham regularly spoke about how Carl Baker's injury before the season began, which ruled him out of the ISL, threw a huge spanner in the works.
Moreover, they also had to contend with injuries to Portuguese winger Zequinha, Jayesh Rane, Shankar Sampingiraj, Anwar Ali and Ashutosh Mehta while another star signing Eugeneson Lyngdoh was also ruled out for the season after getting injured in early December.
Both franchises have had injury troubles, which could be blamed for their listless starts to the season. However, Kerala Blasters have coped with their problems much better than ATK and are in a position where their season can be salvaged.
ATK, on the other hand, are on the brink literally. Despite bringing in replacements for some of their injured players, the Kolkata-based franchise failed to get over the fact that their plans had to be changed on short notice.
Sheringham, who was sacked towards the end of January, had this to say after bringing in Ryan Taylor as Carl Baker's replacement in mid-December - "We missed Robbie [Keane] and Carl Baker at the start of the season. Along with Robbie, Carl Baker was a key player for us."
With just 12 points from 13 games, ATK's season could realistically be over if they lose to Kerala Blasters on Friday. The Tuskers themselves could stake a huge claim for the fourth playoff spot if they manage a win at the Salt Lake Stadium.
All we can hope for is that the fixture does not mirror the drab affair in the season opener!