Sparks fly whenever Atletico de Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC play each other with football of the highest quality on display for the spectators. Two of the strongest sides in the competition – since the inception of the Indian Super League – both these clubs have seen fourteen goals scored among them in six encounters ahead of Sunday’s match.
In an intense season opener at Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in Kolkata, Atletico de Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw. A Sameehg Doutie strike gave Atletico the lead while a late penalty from Iain Hume cancelled out Jayesh Rane and Hans Mulder’s goals.
Here are three takeaways from the first draw of the Indian Super League’s third edition:
Atletico Lacked Precision in Finishing
Atletico de Kolkata created a flurry of chances through the course of the game but converted only two of their eighteen shots. Jose Molina’s side started with a spring in their step with a quick interplay between the trio of Iain Hume, Sameehg Doutie and Helder Postiga in the second minute setting the tone of the game.
As was the case for majority of last season, Doutie was the most influential – the South African midfielder finding space behind the defense on a number of occasions. Atletico adopted a simple yet effective gameplan – Doutie’s pace and width stretched the narrow Chennaiyin backline on Atletico’s right flank while Javier Lara adopted the role of a playmaker on the opposite wing.
Both of Atletico’s marksmen, Iain Hume and Helder Postiga, consistently found space in the Chennaiyin box courtesy their fluidity upfront but failed to find the back of the net. While Bernard Mendy closely marked the Portuguese, prohibiting him from taking a clear shot on a couple of occasions, it was Atletico’s failure to attack the ball in the final third which cost them two points.
In the end, it was Doutie who broke the deadlock at the hour mark with a composed finish and won the all-important penalty four minutes from time. For all the brilliance shown by former Atletico manager Antonio Habas’ star recruit, ATK’s attacks were extremely one-dimensional – all the more why it was baffling that Molina decided to wait until the last ten minutes to bring on Lalrindika Ralte into the game.
Chennaiyin Need More Creativity
A ten-minute spell in the second half saw Marco Materazzi’s side take a 2-1 lead but most of Chennaiyin’s attacking exploits fell short of what is expected from the defending champions. The absence of Elano and Steven Mendoza shone through as Chennaiyin failed to grasp the reigns in their attacking third.
Although the visitors created the first clear-cut chance of the night when a John Arne Riise free-kick rattled the crossbar seven minutes into the game, Chennaiyin did not perturb the Atletico defense for much of the first half.
Be it a patient build-up or a quick counter-attack, Jeje Lalpekhlua often cut a lonely figure up front, especially with Chennaiyin’s No. 9 Davide Succi performing a vanishing act. Materazzi’s crucial goal-scoring asset engineered a shot off a poor distributing effort from Debjit Majumder midway into the first half and found Jayesh Rane with a defense-splitting pass to get Chennaiyin back into the game in the second half.
In the absence of a genuine playmaker in their line-up, the Machans had to rely on set pieces and shooting from distance to create chances. One such opportunistic shot from Hans Mulder found the back of net, having been deflected by a hapless Tiri, stunning the 10,973-strong crowd in the process.
Defensive Lapses Define Both Clubs
With arguably two of the Indian Super League’s strongest defences on paper, Atletico de Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC chose lapses in concentration and defensive errors to be the theme for the evening.
“We conceded two sloppy goals. One goal, three guys against six at the back and somehow they got through and another one is a massive deflection,” Iain Hume told Firstpost after the match.
While both managers prided themselves on their respective teams’ defensive organisation in face of sustained pressure, it was momentary indecisiveness which hurt both club’s chances of winning. The centre back duo of Mendy and Riise effectively handled Helder Postiga but were prone to fumbling the ball during clearances.
On the opposite end, Arnab Mondal and Tiri were equally productive in snuffing out Chennaiyin’s chances during the numerous set piece scenarios, but failed to track Jayesh Rane’s run which allowed him to get on the other end of Jeje’s throughball. A foul from substitute Jerry Lalrinziula provided Atletico the much needed respite as Iain Hume converted the resulting penalty.
With most clubs boasting of stronger attacking line-ups, it will be the defensive temperament which will be set apart the ones qualifying for the knock-outs. The champions of the last two editions of the Indian Super League hardly showcased their championship-winning mettle in the season opener, but a bit of work behind the scenes could improve their performance in the remaining thirteen matches.