Past ISL record
Winners (2014), Semi-finalists (2015)
The big picture
Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) have a special place in Indian Super League's (ISL) history after being crowned the first champions. 2014 was a landmark year, with them winning four and drawing seven matches to finish third in the league stages. They won 4-2 on penalties against FC Goa in the semis -- after playing 210 minutes across the two home venues without either team scoring -- to make their way to the finals. There, Mohammad Rafique came on as a substitute and helped his side become the inaugural champions, beating Kerala Blasters 1-0 in the dying moments of the final. What was remarkable about their run in the playoffs was that their Cameroonian goalkeeper, Edel Bete, didn't concede a single goal across the three matches.
2015 was another good year as they finished second in the qualification stage with seven wins and two draws. They had a number of key players missing matches owing to injuries or due to international duty, yet found a way to get critical wins at various times in the league. Their playoffs last season though, ended in disappointment as they lost 3-0 in the first leg of the semi-finals against Chennaiyin FC (CFC). They missed out on a spot in the final despite a 2-1 victory in the second leg, losing 4-2 on aggregate.
ATK have played their home matches at the 68,000-capacity Salt Lake Stadium thus far, but they will see a change in venue to the 22,000-capacity Rabindra Sarobar Stadium. This decision was taken as the Salt Lake Stadium is undergoing renovation after it was selected as one of the venues for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. This will be one of the lesser changes the team will have to deal with this season.
ATK -- co-owned by former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and La Liga club Atletico Madrid, among others -- will play under former Spain international and 1998 World Cup squad member Jose Francisco Molina, who replaced Antonio Lopez Habas, the team's head coach for the first two seasons. Molina, a former goalkeeper at Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna, had previously guided Hong Kong club Kitchee to the AFC Cup quarterfinals in 2015.
Molina has retained the spine of the team that performed consistently over two seasons for Habas, and he would do well to dig into the defensive discipline that was a hallmark of ATK over the first two seasons.
34-year-old Helder Postiga, who was the marquee player for ATK in 2015, will be seen reprising his role this season as well. He has previously represented Portugal -- a team for which he scored 27 goals in 72 games -- in two World Cups and three European Championships. He scored twice in the opening game of the last season to help his team register a 3-2 win against CFC, but left the game with an injury. He made no further appearances before the team lost in the semi-finals. ATK will be hoping that Postiga will bring his best fitness and form to the table and give Kolkata something to cheer for again.
The other key players
The key players of the team include Canadian footballer Iain Hume, who scored 11 goals -- his first coming in the form of a hat-trick in a match against Mumbai City FC last season. He then scored a second hat-trick against FC Pune City to take his team through to the play-offs, making him one of only two footballers to have two hat-tricks in ISL history. Also in focus would be South African midfielder Sameehg Doutie and Botswana international Ofentse Nato, who have been retained post their good performances in 2015. Former Real Madrid defensive midfielder Borja Fernandez returns for his third season with ATK, and his steadying influence in the middle of the park will be crucial, especially when the team plays away from home and needs to soak up the pressure from the opposition.
India international centre-back Arnab Mondal, who has been a part of the team since its launch in 2014, will also be a key player at the heart of the defence along with Spain's Tiri. Shilton Paul, who wore the captain's armband in Mohun Bagan's successful 2014-15 I-League campaign, is a new addition to the team, and will play an important role as the goalkeeper, especially now that last season's first-choice Amrinder Singh has decided to turn out for Mumbai City.