Kolkata, Jan 11: ATK and Kerala Blasters FC are set to script yet another chapter in their epic rivalry in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) when they face off at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Sunday.
Spurred on by their 5-1 win over Hyderabad FC in their last outing, Eelco Schattorie's men will aim for nothing less than all three points from the match and put ATK's unbeaten record at home in Hero ISL 2019-20 to the test.
Despite being slightly ahead in the overall head to head record across seasons, ATK have failed to register a single victory over the Blasters in their last five meetings.
Currently engaged in a tight three-way battle with FC Goa and Bengaluru FC for the top spot in the Hero ISL 2019-20 table, Antonio Lopez Habas' men can't afford to drop any points and will hope to end their winless run against their arch-rivals on Sunday.
Playing at home will be a big factor for ATK, who are currently undefeated on their home turf this season. In their four ventures in Kolkata so far, the team has won three and drawn one, scoring 11 and conceding just three.
Overall, ATK have been in fine form both offensively and defensively, scoring 21 goals (second-best attacking return this season behind FC Goa) and conceding nine (second-best defensive record for the season behind Bengaluru FC). Habas' men have also kept six clean sheets this campaign – one less than Bengaluru, who have the most number of shutouts this season.
In attack, the combination of Roy Krishna and David Williams has been in sensational with the duo accounting for 13 goals and five assists. But Williams may be in doubt for the encounter following an injury which forced him off in the last match against Mumbai.
The defence, however, will be bolstered by the return of Agustin Iniguez, who missed the last match with a suspension.
Kerala will go into the contest brimming with confidence after dispatching Hyderabad 5-1 at home in their last match, and in the process, ending their nine-match winless run in the season. Incidentally their last victory before the Hyderabad triumph came at the expense of ATK in the opening match of Hero ISL 2019-20 at Kochi.
Still a few points off the top four and with the season entering its business end, it will be imperative for Schattorie's men to keep raking in points consistently and three points from Sunday's match will not only help them strengthen their credentials as a viable top four contender but will also serve as a huge confidence booster heading into the cavalry charge for a spot in the top four.
Up top, there will be heavy reliance on Bartholomew Ogbeche and Messi Bouli to deliver the goals. The duo has been in scintillating form of late and can create issues even for the very potent ATK backline. Ogbeche, in particular, will be in focus with the 35-year-old having scored a brace against ATK the last time the two met.
In defence, the return of Gianni Zuiverloon after a long injury layoff undoubtedly added more solidity to the Kerala backline in the Hyderabad match. Kerala fans will hope the Dutchman and Vlatko Drobarov will be in top form on Sunday against a fearsome ATK attacking line.
ATK FC: Arindam Bhattacharja (GK), Pritam Kotal, Agustin Iniguez, Prabir Das, Sumit Rathi, Armando Sosa Pena, Jayesh Rane, Javier Hernandez, Michael Soosairaj, Edu Garcia, Roy Krishna
Kerala Blasters FC: TP Rehenesh (GK), Mohamad Rakip, Jessel Carneiro, Vlatko Drobarov, Gianni Zuiverloon, Mouhamadou Gning, Seityasen Singh, Halicharan Narzary, Jeakson Singh, Messi Bouli, Bartholomew Ogbeche. (UNI)