Atletico de Kolkata, one of the pre-tournament favourites for the third edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), boasts of a carefully assembled squad as it aims to step out of the shadows of Antonio Habas and move in a new direction under Jose Francisco Molina.
With an abundance of riches in all departments, here are the players who will be indispensable to Molina's tactical set-up:
Arnab Mondal: One of Atletico de Kolkata's most reliable performers in the first two seasons, Mondal is expected to be the mainstay of Molina's central defensive pairing. Known for his excellent reading of the game, the 27-year-old also brings with him leadership qualities and Atletico looks defensively fortified every time Mondal is on the pitch.
Mondal not only formed a formidable partnership with Tiri last season, but his organisation skills while defending set-pieces is a crucial asset for his side. Having missed the pre-season training in Spain due to prior commitments with his I-League club East Bengal, Mondal has "some catching up" to do, but his presence in the Atletico backline is absolutely essential for the club's chances in the tournament.
Borja Fernandez: A La Liga veteran, Fernandez holds the distinction of being the first ever signing by any ISL club. The Atletico de Kolkata captain was pivotal to the club's championship-winning run in the inaugural season.
Atletico tends to struggle without Borja's authoritative presence at the base of their midfield – the Spaniard wins the ball back with an excellent command of the space around him. During transitions from defence to offence, Borja's distribution skill and passing prowess come into play. Not only does Borja shield the Atletico defence, he is a regular contributor to the attacks, popping up in spaces left by opposition midfielders.
Irrespective of whether Molina decides to field a three-man midfield or a "double pivot", the Real Madrid academy graduate will be Atletico's midfield general.
Iain Hume: With 11 goals in 16 appearances, it hardly came as a surprise when Atletico decided to retain the Canadian international who has represented his country in three CONCACAF Gold Cups.
Stunningly consistent, Hume might go a few matches without scoring but the 32-year-old always contributes to the team's attacks, creating space in the final third with his movement and linking brilliantly with his teammates. Hume's versatility ensures Molina can use him in a two-pronged attacking system alongside Helder Postiga, as a lone centre forward and even as a traditional "Number 10".
Having recovered from a life-threatening skull fracture during his time at Barnsley, not much fazes Hume. The striker is immensely popular among Atletico supporters. "As far as the target goes, there's only one target - to lift the trophy on the last day. I'm keeping my fingers crossed," a hungrier, fitter, more focussed Hume asserted.
Sameehg Doutie: A relatively unknown commodity when he arrived at Kolkata, Doutie came into his own as the second season progressed. The South African attacking midfielder's speed on the flanks and the ability to conjure chances against packed defences can help Atletico establish its dominance in attack.
The three goals and six assists in the secod season of the ISL showcased the wide midfielder's complete repertoire while his exhilarating celebrations endeared him to the Atletico faithful. A combination of raw energy and talent, Doutie proved himself and then some more at a time when Atletico was struggling with injuries to its star players. His composure under pressure and down-to-earth attitude takes him a cut above his competitors.
All set to be an integral part of Molina's squad this season, Doutie could prove to be a valuable mentor for the likes of Bikash Jairu, Abinash Ruidas and Lalrindika Ralte.
Helder Postiga: An unfortunate injury cut short the ISL journey of Atletico's marquee signing last season, but a re-invigorated Postiga will take the field in Atletico colours this year. The former Portugal international, unlike last year, is coming off a regular playing stint with top flight Primeira Liga side Rio Ave, for which he scored five goals in 10 matches, helping it qualify for the UEFA Europa League.
Although injuries and spells of patchy form have plagued this explosive striker from time to time, only a select few could match up to Postiga's ability to poach the ball, play off the shoulder of the last defender as well as shoot from distance. His two goals in his ISL debut proved his marksmanship and should he remain fit through the entire season, Postiga could prove to be the game-changer Atletico has been desperately searching for in its previous two seasons.
Potential breakout star
Lalrindika Ralte: In the 23-year-old attacking midfielder, Molina has a technically superb, yet diligent player - one of the finest talents to have come out of the Churchill Brothers academy. Already a regular for India's senior side, Ralte has the ability to shred defences with his exquisite touches as well as inventive passing. A dead-ball specialist, the East Bengal playmaker has all the finesse to back his flair.
The intense schedule, fitness, form and tactical set-up to counter the opposition's strengths will all play on Molina's mind when he chooses players whom he can turn to on a regular basis, and these players will be vital for Atletico's title chances.
First Published On : Oct 2, 2016 12:05 IST