The moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. Hero Indian Super League Season 2 kicks off on Saturday in what promises to be an absolute belter of a contest between reigning champions Atlético de Kolkata and last year’s highest-scoring team Chennaiyin FC. Chennaiyin FC will be hosting the defending champions at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium which witnessed the highest-scoring match of Season 1 when the home side brushed aside Mumbai City FC in a 5-1 thumping.
Atlético de Kolkata will be hoping to repeat their Season 1 heroics when they cruised past Mumbai City FC in the inaugural match with a comfortable 3-0 victory at home. Chennaiyin FC will be hoping to make use of their home advantage this time round as the Super Machans aim at bettering their Season 1 showing where they lost out to Kerala Blasters FC in the semi-finals after finishing the group phase on top of the table with a remarkable haul of 24 goals. Both teams have strengthened several key areas in the off-season and head into the new season as definite contenders.
Stiven Mendoza vs Arnab Mondal
Stiven Mendoza was one of the finds of Season 1. His electrifying pace and flair turned him into an immediate fan favourite amongst the Chennaiyin FC faithful. He scored four goals for his side last season while running defenders ragged before an injury bought an abrupt end to his campaign. It is easy to understand why Chennai will be hoping for a completely fit Mendoza for the entire duration of the tournament.
One of the main reason for Atlético de Kolkata’s Season 1 success was their rock solid defence that was built around their talismanic centre back Arnab Mondal. A constant at the back, the skipper of the Indian national team is a dominant force in defence and also is a good distributor of the ball with a passing accuracy of 83% last season. His presence at the back is sure to bring calmness and security to the Atlético de Kolkata goal.
Elano Blumer vs Borja Fernández
Chennaiyin FC wasted no time in retaining the services of their star man and Golden Boot winner Elano Blumer’s services heading into Season 2. The veteran Brazilian playmaker finished last season with eight goals and an assist under his belt. Add to that the threat he offers Chennai from dead-ball situations and it is easy to understand why retaining him as their marquee player was an absolute no brainer.
Borja Fernández announced his arrival to the Hero ISL during its opening match in spectacular fashion with a 30-yard screamer last year. The former Real Madrid man is known for his dogged defending, offering ATK a secure defensive screen after ending last season with the highest number of tackles to his name. He is equally efficient in attack as well as defence and accounted for a goal and two assists last year. Borja returned to Spain to play for Eibar in La Liga before returning to don the red and white of Atlético de Kolkata for Season 2.
Bernard Mendy vs Iain Hume
Bernard Mendy offered us one of the highlights of Season 1 with his acrobatic overhead kick that stunned spectators and players alike. However, his threat in attack often overshadowed the defensive solidity which the former French international brings to the Chennaiyin FC backline. More than capable going forward on his marauding overlapping runs from wing-back positions, Mendy possess a definite threat in the final third and has an assist to his name amongst the rest of his Season 1 exploits.
Last season’s Hero of the Tournament, Iain Hume may have been on the losing side in the final last year. However, his endearing work rate coupled with his predatory instincts in the box meant that he would be a prudent acquisition by any side, let alone defending champions Atlético de Kolkata. The former Kerala Blasters FC frontman ended last season with five goals and three assists to his name and will be hoping to replicate his performances from last year in Atlético de Kolkata colours this time round.
And if being the first game of Season 2 wasn’t enough, there are several interesting sub-plots that give this game an added edge. None more so than the presence of a certain Fikru Teferra in Chennaiyin FC’s colours. The Ethiopian striker scored the first goal of the Hero Indian Super League for Atlético de Kolkata last season and will be hoping to repeat history by doing the same for Chennaiyin FC against his former employers in Season 2. Interestingly, Fikru is not the only ex-Atlético de Kolkata player in the Chennaiyin ranks for Saturday’s curtain-raiser. Apoula Edel, the man who pulled off a breath-taking save to deny Michael Chopra during last year’s final to keep Kolkata in the game before they went on to nick it in added-time, will now be between Chennaiyin FC’s goal posts. The Armenian keeper will be hoping to be a thorn in the side of his former side during the Season 2 opener.
Big games are played by big players. If I were to play, I would play against the best players. I think we also have the best players, so it’s going to be a great game. I am looking forward to it: Chennaiyin FC coach Marco Materazzi
I don’t want to talk about the defending champions tag. I want to talk about winning every game and getting three points from every game. This is my idea. Past is past: Atlético de Kolkata coach Antonio Lopez Habas
Chennaiyin FC – Karanjit Singh, Nidhin Lal, Apoula Edel Bete, Éder Monteiro Fernandes, Justin Stephen, Bernard Mendy, Abhishek Das, Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte, L. Dhanachandra Singh, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Mailson Alves, Alessandro Potenza, Dhanpal Ganesh, Elano Blumer (marquee player), Godwin Franco, Thoi Singh, Harmanjot Khabra, Raphael Augusto, Bruno Augusto Pelissari de Lima, Zakeer Mundampara, Manuele Blasi, Fikru Teferra Lamessa, Jayesh Rane, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh, John Stiven Mendoza Valencia
Atlético de Kolkata – Amrinder Singh, Juan Calatayud, Kunzang Bhutia (Lachungpa), Arnab Mondal, Denzil Franco, Nallappan Mohanraj, Syed Rahim Nabi, José Miguel González Rey (Josemi), José Luis Espinosa Arroyo (Tiri), Rino Anto, Lalchhawnkima, Augustin Fernandes, Sheikh Jewel Raja, Clifford Miranda, Borja Fernández, Ofentse Nato, Jaime Gavilan Martinez, Sameehg Doutie, Arata Izumi, Javier ‘Javi’ Lara Grande, Valmiro Lopes Rocha, Baljit Sahni, Nadong Bhutia, Sushil Kumar Singh, Iain Hume, Hélder Postiga (marquee player)
(The match starts 1900 IST and will be telecast on Start Sports 1/HD1/2/HD2/3/HD3)
– ISL Media