ISL 2015: In absence of Luis Garcia, Atlético de Kolkata will have to work harder to retain title
Kolkata will miss players who won them ISL 2014, but they have also bolstered their squad so that they now have an equally (if not more) competent side.
Atlético de Kolkata's performances in the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League made them worthy champions after an extra time goal from Mohammad Rafique in the final against Kerala Blasters.
The defensive solidity provided by Arnab Mondal and Josemi; a mixture of resoluteness, composure, and creativity in midfield from Ofentse Nato, Luis Garcia, Borja Fernandes, and Jofre; and Fikru Teferra's lethal attacking instincts made for a balanced side with few weaknesses.
One year on, there have been several changes in personnel, with some big names leaving the club, and others coming in.
Fikru, who was Kolkata's top goalscorer, has moved to Chennayin FC, while captain Luis Garcia has opted out of this season. Jofre, who proved to be pretty useful in central midfield last year, is now with FC Goa.
While there is little doubt that Kolkata will miss these players, the squad has been bolstered so that Kolkata now has an equally (if not more) competent side.
The designated marquee player this season is Helder Postiga, former FC Porto, Tottenham Hotspur, and Portugal national team striker. Discovered at the age of 18 for his explosive power and exquisite technique, Postiga played an instrumental part in Porto's treble winning season under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho.
Other major additions include Iain Hume from Kerala Blasters, Syed Rahim Nabi from Mumbai City FC, and Arata Izumi.
Strengths: Rino Anto, on loan from I-League side Bengaluru FC, is another another of Kolkata's acquisitions for this season of the ISL. A right-back, Rino is known for his blistering pace and accurate crosses, and has been hailed by Bengaluru FC manager Ashley Westwood as India's best right back.
The formidable defensive pairing of Arnab Mondal and Josemi let in only 13 goals in the 16 matches they featured in together. They're expected to line up alongside each other again this year, so we can expect strong defensive displays.
Hume, who was ISL 2014's best foreign player, actually took the field for Kerala Blasters against Atlético de Kolkata in last year's final. His tenacity last year was rewarded with goals, and he should pick up this season from where he left off last December.
The heavy Spanish influence in the squad, which stems from the blossoming technical relationship between Atlético de Kolkata and Atlético Madrid, should help the newer recruits settle down quickly.
Weaknesses: In his absence, Kolkata may find it difficult to replace some of Luis Garcia's attributes, particularly his calmness, creativity, and range of passing that laid the foundation for so many of its chances last season.
Postiga is famous for performing erratically throughout his career. He might prove to be a gamble.
In all, the reigning champions have a decently balanced side, and are definitely more than capable of mounting a serious title defence this season.
Manager: Kolkata has retained Spanish manager Antonio Habas for this season, after he successfully led the team to the title last year. He has worked with proven managers such as Rafa Benitez and Bernd Schuster in the past, besides coaching the Bolivian national team. He will know that in order to successfully defend the title, his team will have to do significantly better than last season.
Best XI: Catalayud; Anto, Josemi, Mondal, Franco; Ofentse Nato, Izumi Arata, Borja Fernandez; Iain Hume, Helder Postiga, Baljit Sahni
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