The narrow margin of the final scoreline between Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters did not reflect the sheer domination of Antonio Habas’ side in a 2-1 win which took them to the top of the table -- however, the defending champions must stop conceding in the last ten minutes and kill off matches with their early domination.
Their results to far: 3-2 win over Chennaiyin FC, 1-1 against FC Goa and 2-1 win over Kerala Blasters, have earned them points but not the fear from opposition.
To his credit though, and for a side riddled with injuries and suspensions, Habas came up with a tactical masterclass which all but nullified the Blasters' midfield. Atletico adopted a classic 4-2-3-1 formation with Borja Fernandez and Jaime Gavilan in the double pivot; Javier Lara formed the crux of the attacking midfield with Nadong Bhutia and Arata Izumi on either side.
Peter Taylor, as he had indicated in his pre-match press conference, went with a 3-5-2 shape similar to the previous matches. While Sanchez Watt and Chris Dagnall formed a two-pronged attack, Mehtab Hossain, Josu Currias and Shankar Sampingiraj were enlisted with midfield duties.
Despite the Blasters packing midfield with their wingbacks, they were completely overrun in the middle of the park with Borja and Gavilan pressing in tandem. The three Kerala Blasters midfielders rarely saw the ball in the first half hour and even when they retrieved possession, they failed to make any headway into the Atletico defence. Josu, who scored a spectacular in his previous start, was particularly underwhelming and was eventually substituted in favour of Victor Pulga at half-time.
A disjointed Blasters midfield allowed Lara and Izumi the space to operate between the channels, a tactic which contributed towards both of Atletico’s goals. While Lara’s technique and creativity pulled the strings every time Atletico poured forward, Izumi’s unmarked runs were a cause of concern for Taylor, especially with Rahul Bheke positioned further up the pitch on the right flank. This may be a concern for Taylor, who saw Mumbai City dominate them through the channels in their previous match too.
Atletico took advantage of the positioning of both Kerala full-backs as they stretched the three-man Yellow Army defence and opened up pockets of space in danger areas. With Ian Hume’s workrate and movement off the ball, the experienced Peter Ramage and Bruno Perone struggled to contain the barrage of attacks.
Hume dropped deep time and again to provide Lara and Gavilan a passing outlet and it was this manoeuvre which helped Atletico take the lead within the first ten minutes. Hume’s link-up play paved the way for his eventual shot on target, which was slotted in by Arata on the rebound.
If the first goal was a team goal, Atletico’s second was down to sheer individual brilliance from Lara. The Spaniard latched onto a pass from Hume and dribbled through a packed Blasters defence to score the winner. The 21-year-old Nadong Bhutia was also impressive in his first start for Atletico – his pace on the right wing complemented with clever and unselfish passing.
The inclusion of Victor Pulga at halftime allowed Kerala to regain some of the control in midfield as Mehtab and Shankar pushed forward to join the two English strikers in attack. Watt and Dagnall, isolated and lacking in service in the first half, looked extremely lively in the second as they combined to bypass the compact Atletico defence.
Josemi and Augustine Fernandes, who had both had fared well until the 75-minute mark defending in two narrow banks of four, began to get stretched once Kerala resorted to long balls behind them. With Watt's pace and Dagnall's relentless chasing, the Blasters fought back into the game.
Continuing their tradition of conceding in the last ten minutes, a mistake from Catalyud Sanchez allowed Dagnall to score. However, the Atletico de Kolkata goalie redeemed himself soon after with a string of saves as Habas’ men held on for the win.
Atletico de Kolkata have successfully negotiated a tricky start to the new season, managing to remain unbeaten in the process. Habas however, needs to eliminate the individual errors as his side hits the road again to face FC Pune City and NorthEast United in close succession.
His team also needs to put the game beyond their opponents' reach so that there's no chance of fight back like the one Kerala mustered.
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Updated Date: Oct 14, 2015 11:46:16 IST