ISL 2016: Struggling defence, errors hurt Atletico de Kolkata’s semifinal chances
The draws in the last two matches have allowed Atletico de Kolkata to barely hold on to their position in the top four, but with only six points separating the league leaders from the bottom feeders, qualification for the knock-outs will seem a distant reality.
A last gasp goal from Iain Hume spared Atletico de Kolkata’s blushes in a 1-1 stalemate against NorthEast United at the Rabindra Sarovar Stadium. Nelo Vingada’s side came into the game on the back of four consecutive losses and once again exposed Atletico’s weaknesses in all aspects of the game. Here are four takeaways:
A game of mistakes
“Football is so attractive because mistakes happen. Sometimes it’s not because of more or less experience but it happens in the moment,” Nelo Vingada had professed ahead of the match. The Portuguese’s words rang true as both the defining moments of the match came through mistakes from the defensive unit of either side.
Atletico de Kolkata started on the front foot with Javier Lara’s free-kick in the third minute of the match barely cleared by the NorthEast United defense, but the strike duo of Emiliano Alfaro and Nico Velez forced a mistake off the Atletico centre halves to break the deadlock. In the modern era, when striking partnerships are a dying breed, Alfaro and Velez worked in perfect tandem to catch the Atletico rear-guard on the wrong foot.
With Sereno in possession of the ball, Alfaro pressed high up the pitch to close down his passing options, forcing the Portuguese defender to pass it hastily towards Arnab Mondal, who had failed to read Velez’ position. The Argentine pounced on the loose ball and dribbled past Mondal and Debjit Majumder’s desperate challenges to register his first goal of the season.
Atletico de Kolkata’s equaliser at the ninetieth minute came through a lapse in concentration as well – the otherwise compact NorthEast United backline, after a couple of injury-forced substitutions, failed to contend with the three Atletico centre forwards together. While Juan Belencoso created a distraction in the box due to his physical prowess, Helder Postiga rose above all the NorthEast United players to head Javier Lara’s free-kick goal-bound. The Highlanders had failed to track Iain Hume’s run at the far post and the Canadian netted his second consecutive goal in as many matches.
Atletico’s defensive frailties are a cause for concern
Jose Molina, throughout the course of the season, has reiterated that he is “happy with the defenders” at his disposal and Atletico are “working on conceding fewer goals”. However, mistakes have continued to crop up in every game, with the Kolkata-based outfit managing to keep a clean sheet on only two occasions.
While the Salt Lake Stadium was considered a fortress of sorts under the leadership of Antonio Habas, Atletico have clearly failed to settle down at their new ground this season. Jose Molina’s experiments with his backline have not helped either – Atletico de Kolkata has fielded eight different combinations of ‘back four’ in their ten matches. Arnab Mondal’s poor stretch of form and Tiri’s fitness struggles have compelled Molina to persist with Sereno in crucial games, in spite of the 31-year-old centre half being prone to committing errors under pressure.
Atletico struggle against compact defences
NorthEast United executed their plans to perfection for better part of ninety minutes – Vingada’s side sat back and soaked up all the pressure after taking the early lead. In Sameehg Doutie’s absence, Atletico’s attack looked one-dimensional with Molina’s side threatening Subrata Paul’s goal only when Helder Postiga had the ball.
As has been the case in almost every match Atletico de Kolkata have played this season, they outshot their opponents by a considerable margin, but it was the poor quality of those chances and lack of individual brilliance which restrained them. Even though Atletico were chasing an equalizer, NorthEast United always looked the likelier side to get the second goal of the game, with Alfaro heading straight to Debjit Majumder on a couple of occasions.
Javier Lara and Iain Hume’s underwhelming showings in the first half were down to the Highlanders’ compact shape – the central midfielders Romaric and Rowlin Borges stifled space between the channels. Atletico’s inability to pass the ball at a quickened tempo played into NorthEast’s hands as Mailson Alves and Gustavo Lazzaretti snuffed out all the half-chances and were rarely drawn out of position.
The lack of a game-changer on the Atletico bench was once again apparent – with Molina turning to Abinash Ruidas and Juan Belencoso but without much avail. With the exception of Helder Postiga in the reverse fixture and Javier Lara in their previous game, Atletico have rarely had a substitute positively influence the result and questions must be asked of the management’s strategy while assembling the squad.
Atletico have a number of promising youngsters in Lalrindika Ralte, Abinash Ruidas and Bidyananda Singh but none of these players have stepped up to the forefront – Atletico being the only Indian Super League club without an Indian goalscorer in the third season.
Molina is yet to find his best eleven
Jose Molina had inherited one of the most settled, well-versed squads in the league and yet, ten games into the season, the Spaniard is still looking for his first-choice eleven. Helder Postiga, Borja Fernandez, Sameehg Doutie and Debjit Majumder are the only three players assured of their position in the starting line-up when available.
The constant chopping and changing have further hindered the chances of a side which is struggling due to the subpar form of some of its key players. Jose Molina is also culpable of failing to recognise his side’s shortcomings on repeated occasions and Atletico falling at similar hurdles irrespective of the opposition.
The draws in the last two matches have allowed Atletico to barely hold on to their position in the top four, but with only six points separating the league leaders from the bottom feeders, qualification for the knock-outs will seem a distant reality unless Atletico turn around their performances.
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