ISL 2017-18: What is the special plan of Kerala Blasters Coach Rene Meulensteen against ATK?

[caption id="attachment_58312" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Image Source: Twitter @IndSuperLeague Image Source: Twitter @IndSuperLeague[/caption]

Internet Desk: The story of Kerala Blasters FC has been that of so near yet so far. The Yellow Army finished runners-up in 2014 and 2016, falling to ATK on both occasions. In 2014, ATK won by a single goal, scored by Mohammed Rafique in added time. Two years later, it was 1-1 between the two sides before the Kolkata club won 4-3 on penalties. The margin between Kerala and the glittering trophy has been thin, almost painful for the Hero Indian Super League's (ISL) most boisterous group of fans.

And it is to fill that tiny gap that the Blasters have signed some renowned names and retained some others. Rene Meulensteen comes in as coach, and the former assistant of Sir Alex Ferguson will surely bring in new and inventive ideas to the club. Dimitar Berbatov, a Premier League winner with Manchester United, comes in as one of the ISL's biggest-ever signings and Iain Hume returns to the fold after two seasons away. The Canadian was their top-scorer in 2014 with five goals and will look to strike a fine partnership with Berbatov up front.

There is no dearth of attacking talent on the wings as well. CK Vineeth and Jackichand Singh will add pace and width from wide areas but it is the selection of full-backs like Rino Anto and Samuel Shadap that will also aid their potency from crossing positions. In the middle, they have Milan Singh and Arata Izumi, players who are solid on the tackle and have an eye for a pass. In the heart of defence will be Sandesh Jhingan, who is arguably India's best centre-back and devoted to the Blasters since the inception of the league.

The Blasters have gone through different philosophies in their first three years but the binding factor was a British style of football:  direct, sometimes long and mostly through the middle. With Dutchman Meulensteen coming in, there is a chance he will eke more from technical players, with emphasis on expressing their creativity. It could lead to a devastating combination of high quality players counter-attacking with all their might.

At first glance, there are hardly any cracks in the Blasters' roster. Even between the sticks, they look safe with the acquisition of Paul Rachubka, Sandip Nandy and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury. They need to, however, make sure they don't leak goals by virtue of their attack-heavy mindset.

The Blasters open their campaign against their old foes in Kolkata, taking on ATK in what promises to be a cracking start to the longest Hero ISL season so far. They are at home to Jamshedpur FC and Mumbai City FC immediately after, and it is here that they will look to gain momentum. After all, the Blasters enjoy a huge fan base. If they can rack up some early points, then Meulensteen's team are certain to be in the last four for the third time in four seasons.

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