Perhaps there is no better way to kick-start a popular league than to pit two top teams against each other for the opening match and that is what will happen when defending champions Atletico de Kolkata face Chennaiyin FC in an Indian Super League (ISL) encounter here on Saturday.
Atletico may have become the champions last year, but Chennayin were also in the reckoning, till they faltered in the semi-final. They finished top of the table after the group stage but were unlucky in the semis against eventual runners-up Kerala Blasters FC.
Chennaiyin would ideally want to better their performance in the second edition and lay hands on the silverware and what better way to do it than beat Atletico and begin their journey.
On the other hand, ATK are one of those sides in the tournament who are gritty and will fight it out till the very end. Last year after a brilliant start they lost their way a bit in the middle of the league but then came back stronger and beat the Blasters in the final to clinch the title.
ATK coach Antonio Lopez Habas will be aware of the rivals strength and weaknesses and one would not be surprised if he does something audacious to put Chennaiyin FC on the backfoot. However, it will be interesting to see how Habas’ new-look squad cope with the pressure of playing in front of a vociferous away crowd.
Both sides this time around have men who can put the game to bed with their set of skills. While Chennaiyin will rely on their talismanic Brazilian playmaker and goalscorer Elano Blumer, ATK will hope their marquee Portuguese Helder Postiga will be up for the challenge for the very first contest.
There are injury worries for both outfits too, ATK’s Spanish defender Josemi is most likely to miss the tie and midfielder Jewel Raja is doubtful too. Chennaiyin is also sweating on the fitness of Ethiopian striker Fikru Teferra but the forward insists he will be ready in time to face his former side on Saturday.
In head to head encounters, there is nothing to separate the two-sides as they have drawn the two games that they have played.
Chennaiyin FC coach Marco Materazzi has a strong defensive line-up to boast of and for Atletico it will be quite difficult to split it open. Their midfielders have to ably support the likes of Iain Hume and Postiga upfront.
On the other end of the pitch, especially with Josemi being sidelined Atletico will surely have a tough time in keeping Stiven Mendoza and Elano at bay. But the game is likely to be a fast-paced one due to the presence of several swift players on both teams.