Back home after suffering an away defeat, former champions ATK will look to regroup and pick their first points when they face Hyderabad FC in the sixth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) here on Friday.
For Hyderabad FC, who were formed after Pune FC were disbanded last season for financial irregularities, this will be the first match of the season. Despite a sixth minute lead by Carl McHugh, ATK were left to rue some good opportunities as Kerala Blasters restored parity by converting a spotkick in the 30th minute and sealed the issue before half-time in the ISL opener in Kochi on Sunday.
The Kolkata franchise were also ‘unlucky’ with their appeals for penalties being turned down during the match and coach Antonio Lopez Habas will look for a fresh start for his team. Former Spanish international goalkeeper Jose Molina took charge in the third season and the Kolkata franchise put up a dominant display to win their second title — a record they jointly hold with Chennaiyin FC in the five-year-old history of the league.
But after the severed partnership with Atletico Madrid — who looked after the technical affairs but did not invest anything in the club, ATK performance nosedived, finishing ninth and sixth in the last two seasons. To revive their fortunes, the Sanjiv Goenka-owned side finally decided to get back Habas and the Spaniard will be keen to return to winning ways. Soosairaj was one of most influential players for Jamshedpur last year, netting four goals for them but the leftwinger looked tentative against Kerala with Jayesh Rane in the central midfield.
“The duty to the team is like that. I think Soosairaj has a fantastic future but he needs to adapt to us tactically. Maybe one day he’ll play as a full-back and other day he’ll be a winger. He has the condition for playing in many sectors of the pitch,” Habas said of Soosairj on the eve of the match.
Most of the players from the now-defunct Pune FC, who were disbanded at the end of last season following financial troubles, have been retained by the Hyderabad side. Englishman Phil Brown, who joined Pune last season in January and guided the club to a seventh-place finish, will continue to guide Hyderabad as they play their first match.
Representing the historical city of Hyderabad, the franchise have brought in several key foreigners, including Nestor Gordillo, Deyvison Rogerio da Silva and Giles Barnes. The domestic recruits include Gani Nigam, Sahil Tavora and Laldanmawia Ralte while FC Goa’s Laxmikant Kattimani has replaced Vishal Kaith.
The defence also looks sturdy with high-profile signings of Matthew Kilgallon and Rafa Lopez Gomes adding a bit of their experience from the European top tiers.Youngsters Deependra Negi, Ashish Rai and Tarif Akhand are also part of the main squad. Under Habas, then Atletico de Kolkata won the inaugural title in 2014 and made the last-four the following year.