Fresh from their morale-boosting win over leaders FC Goa, two-time former champions ATK will be eyeing full points against a struggling North East United FC in their Indian Super League fixture in Kolkata on Monday.
A win will push ATK to the lead, going level with the Goans and remain in a two-way hunt for the solitary AFC Champions League play-off berth for the group toppers. Second-half goals from Pritam Kotal and Jayesh Rane secured a 2-0 win for ATK against the Goans in their last match, here as they will look to continue their strong momentum.
Captain Roy Krishna, who has scored eight goals so far, will once again be ATK’s biggest weapon upfront. However, he has not scored in the last four matches, despite providing assists to his teammates and the Fijian would be looking to be back among goals, against a team he scored a brace in the first leg.
In their last outing, coach Antonio Lopez Habas had to sit out because of suspension and the coach would be back in the dugout to take charge of the proceedings.
“We have to go step by step. I am not thinking about the championship. I am only thinking about NorthEast United match. We have to focus on the present. Not past, not future,” Habas said ahead of their match.
Habas is also positive that their injured Aussie forward David Williams may make a return. “Williams has trained with the team this week. He is part of the team dynamics. We have to evaluate in the last training session before taking a call. Maybe there is a possibility of him playing in the match. I don’t know if he will start.”
The Robert Jarni-coached Highlanders, on the other hand, are winless from seven matches as their last victory came against Hyderabad way back on November 6 as they have slipped to ninth place with 11 points. Jarni is however hopeful of making the playoffs.
“Every team can win in this league. In this month, we saw that almost every match was decided in the last five minutes. So until the last minute, you don’t know how it will end. Everybody has the chance and everybody can win. So it’s unpredictable,” he said.
“In one month we have seven games. We are aware of the situation. This is not about being pessimistic. I am always optimistic to fight for every little hope we have. The players are doing a really good job. We have already got some replacements,” the coach said.
Northeast will be bolstered by two high profile signings in Irish forward Andy Keogh and Swedish experienced midfielder Simon Lundevall. While Keogh was signed as a replacement for the injured Asamoah Gyan, Lundevall is likely to fill in the void left by Panagiotis Triadis whose contract was terminated.
Lundevall spent the last four years of his career with Swedish club IF Elfsborg and appeared for IF Elfsborg in 138 games and has scored 19 goals with them. The 31-year-old loves to operate on the left flank but is versatile in nature and can be deployed on the right side of the midfield as well.
“Lundevall came just a few days ago and he has still not adapted to the weather here. We will see if he adapts by the next match,” the Croat coach said.
Habas said they would have to be watchful. “It can be a tricky match. They play good football, they have signed two players. They have played two matches less than the other teams. It is very difficult, they are tough opponents. We have to be tough and prepare well for this match.”
“NorthEast United have some good players in central midfield and attack. They have good Indian players too. They are a good team. One day you can lose and one day you can win. Every team is very equal and we have to be alert. We respect NorthEast,” Habas said.
Head to Head: Matches 11, ATK FC 6, North East United FC 3, Draws 2
Date: January 27, Monday
Time: 7:30 PM onwards
Venue: Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
Broadcast: Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD, Star Sports 1 Hindi, Star Sports 1 Hindi HD, Star Sports 1 Tamil, Star Sports 1 Kannada, Star Sports 1 Telugu, Star Sports 1 Bangla. The match will also be broadcasted on Hotstar and Jio TV.