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ISL 2018-19: Star-studded ATK fumble on opening day

12:37 PM MYT 30/09/2018
Slavisa Stojanovic ATK Kerala Blasters ISL 2018-19
Steve Coppell's sojourn with ATK began with a disappointing defeat against his former side Kerala Blasters in the ISL season five opener....

ATK kicked-off the Indian Super League (ISL) season five on a disappointing note as they went down 0-2 against Kerala Blasters on Saturday evening in Kolkata. Second half goals from Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic sealed a crucial away win for David James’ side.

Steve Coppell’s star-studded side failed to live up to the hype as they got outplayed in almost every department.

Lined-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Coppell deployed Everton Santos in the lone striker’s role with Manuel Lanzarote operating just behind him and Balwant Singh and Jayesh Rane on the flanks. John Johnson partnered Gerson Vieira in central defence and Aiborlang Khongjee and Sena Ralte operated as full-backs. Pronay Halder and Noussair El Maimouni played in the central midfield.

David James, on the other hand, took a surprising call in team selection as he went ahead with just four overseas players in the starting line-up. Both Courage Pekuson and Kizito Keziron were left on the bench.

ATK were neither defensively strong nor were they flamboyant in the attacking third.

The decision to field two defensive midfielders in Halder and Maimouni did not help ATK’s cause as there suffered from lack of creativity. With Eugeneson Lyngdoh yet to be back to his full fitness, Coppell chose not to hand him a start in the opening game. As a result, Manuel Lanzarote had to drop deep into his own half in order to see more of the ball. In the process, Lanzarote wasn’t utilized in his best position, i.e. the attacking third, and hence ATK suffered in their link-up play upfront.

The new centre-back pairing of John Johnson and Gerson Vieira lacked any sort of understanding and the lack of coordination was evident in the goals conceded.

Coppell’s teams are known for having fast players on the flanks who use the width of the pitch to deliver crosses. Neither Jayesh Rane nor Balwant Singh were effective in the duty assigned. So poor was Rane that he failed to go past a young full-back in Mohammed Rakip, who was playing his first ever game in competitive football.

It was surprising that Coppell chose not to include  Komal Thatal in the matchday squad. Thatal has the experience of playing against Rakip when they were part of the India set-up and his pace would have been vital in exposing Kerala’s defence.

Kolkata never really tested a young Dheeraj Moirangthem in goal, which only highlights how sub-standard their attack was in the game. Kerala didn’t have to sweat much as Kolkata never really challenged them.

For Kerala, this was a good start or rather the best in their history. While there are still areas to improve upon, David James will be a pleased manager to see his team score two goals in their very first game, a feat they achieved last season in the fourth game and that too in a losing cause.