ATK face tough Mumbai battle in ISL semi-final first leg (Preview)
Kolkata, Dec 9 (IANS) Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) know well that they have to get our of their “draw” mode and go for the kill against an in-form Mumbai City FC in their semi-final first leg football match of the Indian Super League (ISL) here on Saturday.
ATK, according to their Spanish head coach Jose Molina, have done what they set out to do in reaching the playoffs. But it would be incorrect to say that the former champions did it in style.
Having played out eight draws out of their 14 league outings, more worryingly winning only once at their Rabindra Sarovar Stadium home ground, the Sourav Ganguly co-owned side have huffed and puffed in their journey till the last four.
And against Mumbai who besides standing in good stead also boast of an envious attacking line comprising Uruguayan hitman Diego Forlan, India’s most accomplished striker Sunil Chhetri, nippy Haitian Sony Norde and Argentine Matias Defederico, it won’t be smooth sailing.
This is Mumbai’s first tryst with the knockout stages but the Ranbir Kapoor co-owned franchise topped the league table by playing some attractive football and in their game Kerala Blasters saw Forlan sparkle with a hat-trick.
The highest paid marquee player had a sedate start to his ISL journey, punctuated by injuries. But to the relief of Mumbai, the 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner peaked at the right time, the treble being the crowning moment.
Forlan, in fact, was the difference between ATK and Mumbai here with his second half strike, earning the away side three points and inflicting ATK’s only defeat in their own lair.
Besides the top half, Mumbai have a solid backline also led by Romanian Lucian Goian who has been one of ISL’s best centre-backs.
It will take some doing for the likes of marquee player Helder Postiga, Iain Hume or Juan Belencoso, whoever gets the nod, to break down this defence which also has full-back Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte in fine fettle.
Molina has to choose between Belencoso or Hume with Postiga and by the look of things, the Canadian Hume might get the nod of his profligate Spaniard who spurned four easy chances in their last league game against FC Pune City.
ATK’s strength has been on the flanks with the likes of South African Sameehg Doutie, Spaniard Javi Lara and local boy Abhinash Ruidas excelling. Lara has been particularly good this season both wide and playing just behind the striker.
Molina might go with Stephen Pearson and Borja Fernandez in midfield with the former getting the free role to move up front and sneak in the goalscoring areas like he has been doing so well this term.
The defence has been ATK’s bane and against a top quality Mumbai attack that can be a cause of worry.
ATK will hope last year’s fate does not come back to haunt them where Chennaiyin FC knocked the stuffing out of them with a 3-0 first leg win from which, even after a 2-1 second leg win, they failed to reach the final.
Overall, the first leg will be an indication of what needs to be done and ATK will want to take a win with them to Mumbai although their home record hasn’t been great.