If the first semi-final of the Indian Super League (ISL) between FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC was a gold-fest, the second one between ATK and defending champion Bengaluru FC was a display of Jose Mourinhosque ‘park the bus’.
The strategy adopted by both the Spanish coaches — Carles Cuadrat of Bengaluru FC and Antonio Habas of ATK – was simple, sit back and wait for an opportunity to counter-attack.
The second leg is expected to have the same approach, especially with BFC’s injury concerns and suspension of left-back Nishu Kumar.
The Bengaluru side won the first leg 1-0 but suffered a big loss in Albert Serran. The first-choice centre back incurred an injury during the game. Another big loss for ‘The Blues’ was in Nishu, who emerged as the best in the position this season.
Sunil Chhetri’s fitness concern will act as a salt on the wound for BFC when they put on their first team for the second leg. The talismanic captain has been out of the last few games due to a hamstring injury. Although he did start in the first leg, there are doubts about his inclusion in the second leg.
The only positive for the team is the rise of teenage midfielder Suresh Singh. The 2017 U17 World Cup team member has shown his versatility on the pitch. His willingness to play across the field even taking up the role of a right-wing back in injury-ridden Serran’s absence is commendable.
ATK: Team of big matches riding on Habas factor
Although the Kolkata side lost the first leg, Coach Habas would have fewer things to complain about. Yes, they conceded a goal but the ball found the net in the softest manner possible – mishandling by goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya and Deshorn Brown’s poaching skills led to the goal.
The only good chance by ATK was David Williams goal which was overruled due to a handball.
The ‘Red and White’ has been prolific at home this season. They suffered four loss and draws each in 18 matches. ATK won 14 matches out of which one was against BFC. They finished second behind FC Goa.
ATK is a team of big match temperament. The Kolkata-side are unbeaten in three attempts in ISL playoffs at home.
One of the three playoff home wins was under Habas — a 2-1 victory over Chennaiyin FC in 2015. ATK also drew a match under their current coach against Goa in 2014.
The 2016 playoff match under Jose Molina, the team won 3-2 against Mumbai City FC. The stats suggest ATK as the favourites for the second leg. But the only downfall for the playoff experienced side is their tendency to concede goals, which can prove detrimental against a team like BFC.
If BFC manages to get a goal early, ATK will need to find the net three times to avoid a knockout due to away goal.