With a sense of déja vu, the Indian Super League 2021-2022 season kicks off Friday with a big ticket clash between ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters. As in the previous season, the three venues in Goa – Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao, Tilak Maidan in Vasco and GMC Athletics Stadium in Bambolin – will host the first phase of the ISL which runs until 9 January. This is in line with the demands of hosting events in the COVID era. What will be different this season, however, is the biggest rule change in the league since its inception in 2014, which could have a significant impact on the national team.
This season, teams with a minimum of seven local players plus a maximum of four foreigners will play in the XI.
The league will see an increase in local players’ participation on the field, thanks to a new set of guidelines that instruct clubs to field a minimum of seven local footballers at a time from the previous six.
An increase in the number of Indian players means one place less for foreign stars who will now be limited to four.
The limit on foreign players up to a maximum of four is in accordance with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) club competition regulations.
The changes gave the clubs the leeway to sign a maximum of six foreign players, one of whom must be from an AFC member nation (3 + 1).
The first issue in 2014 witnessed a play composition of six foreigners and five Indian players.
Over the years, the league has gradually increased the places for Indian players, with ISL 2017-18 having a minimum of six Indian players on the field, which has been further increased to seven for this season.
Antonio Habas, coach of ATK Mohun Bagan, said on the eve of the tournament’s opening that his team would play their own game against Kerala Blasters, but would enter the field with nothing but respect for their opponents.
“We absolutely respect the opponent in this case and last season, the season before that, and the season before that, we had to play the matches against Kerala,” said Habas.
“We do not have much information about their quality, because the deck he has, they have a new coach, new players, but we have to analyze it according to the individual profile of the players he has. But at all times, my morals in football are more important, namely 85%, 80% for my team to do its job and the remaining 20% is my respect for the opponent, ”he added.
ATK Mohun Bagan will try to maintain their winning record against the Blasters, after defeating them twice last season.
Their opponents are a revamped unit and Habas’ men will have to bring their ‘A’ game to the table if they want to start the season with all three points.
In his second term at the team in Kolkata, Habas will want to go one step further this season after losing to Mumbai City FC in the final last year.
On the other hand, Ivan Vukomanovic, head coach of Kerala Blaster FC, will not let history get in his way.
The Blasters have faced ATK Mohun Bagan twice in their history and lost on both occasions, but will look like they are on the right side of the result on Friday.
“We are mostly focused on ourselves on how we are going to play and what our tasks are. Of course, during every game you have moments where you have to attack and you have to defend. This does not mean that only one team will defend,” said Vukomanovic. .
“There will be moments in the game where we will have to sit back, and then they will have to sit back. So it’s a football game. Actually the whole pre-season period and during the season, as a team you are prepared for all possible options,” he added.
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