Atletico de Kolkata face a struggling NorthEast United FC on Saturday evening as the home side hopes to build on the winning momentum from their last game against Mumbai City FC. A little more than two weeks ago, Cesar Farias’ side had emerged victorious in a 1-0 affair at Guwahati as the defending champions hit one of their lowest points of the Indian Super League’s second season.
Devoid of a host of first-teamers due to injuries, Atletico had failed to convert any of the chances which came their way. Their season continued to unravel with another loss at home against the Delhi Dynamos FC but a tactical masterclass from Antonio Habas and clinical finishing helped Atletico to their biggest win of the season last Sunday.
Should Atletico beat NorthEast United FC, they have an opportunity to jump into the top three, inching a step closer to a semi-final berth. “I don't have revenge on my mind. All I have in my mind is three points. We need to keep winning in order to qualify for the play-offs,” Atletico manager Antonio Habas said.
Injuries continue to plague the Kolkata outfit as Josemi and Javi Lara will miss the game. While Tiri’s partnership with Augustin Fernandes at the back yielded a positive result against Mumbai City, Atletico’s lack of a single clean sheet will worry Habas.
The reigning champions will also miss Lara’s technical quality and eye for the final ball, in spite of Jaime Gavilan and Sameehg Doutie stepping up recently. “The team has been hit by injuries. It is unfortunate. We have good players who cannot play. They are still recovering,” admitted Habas.
Farias agreed with Habas’ observation that the short format of the competition played a role behind the recurring injury problems of various sides, “He is not wrong. You have to train, and play matches every three or four days. Players get very little time to rejuvenate. Injuries are bound to happen.”
In the light of recent injuries, Atletico have signed Mohammed Rafique as a replacement for the dengue-hit Lalchhawnkima. Rafique scored the club’s winning goal in last season’s finale and has been dubbed as “a good, important addition to our squad” by Habas. “It feels wonderful to be back. I’m a Kolkata boy and I’m happy to be back playing for ATK,” the East Bengal midfielder said with a smile.
The Highlanders, still looking for their first away win of the season, are eager to lift themselves out of last place in league standings. Performance in the away games is just another aspect they have “had to work on” according Farias.
He conceded that the scheduling of the fixtures have contributed to their woes, “In the first half we had more away games. That’s always a crucial part of the league. Then there is travelling, fatigue and all that. We are low on the table but from now on we have more home games.” However, he refused to rule out NorthEast United’s chances of qualifying for the knock-outs, “This year the table is very tight, it’s very compressed and even. A team may win one day and lose the next.”
NorthEast United salvaged a crucial point at Delhi earlier this week, which according to their manager should kick-start their season, “Last game we created chances and dominated the game and here we are looking to gain three points.”
It took a moment of set-piece magic from marquee player Simao Sabrosa to get the Highlanders on the scoreboard though, and Farias is glad he has the option of bringing the former Atletico Madrid-winger on from bench to impact the game. “He's an inspiring personality and someone who can inspire coaches, players, referees or anyone. It's for us to make optimum use of his potential.”
The match promises to be a cracking encounter with any of the three possible results for either side changing the equations for qualification to the semi-finals.
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Updated Date: Nov 07, 2015 14:06:19 IST