ISL 2018-19: Form, defensive organisation give Mumbai City FC the upper hand against ATK in battle of pragmatist sides
In-form Mumbai City FC may have the edge over an inconsistent ATK side, but the real highlight would be the tactical battle between ISL's two most pragmatic coaches - Jorge Costa and Steve Coppell
Neither Mumbai City FC nor ATK have set the Indian Super League stage on fire so far this season, but the two sides have quietly crawled into the race for the semi-final spots. Jorge Costa-managed Mumbai sit in fourth place after seven games, just three points off leaders FC Goa having played a game less. Steve Coppell's ATK are three points further adrift in sixth place, but well within touching distance of the coveted top-four places.
Mumbai City FC and ATK are at the similar end on a lot of parameters and their like-mindedness in approach suggests a tactical battle is on the cards at the Mumbai Football Arena on Saturday. Mumbai and ATK don't need to be a force with the ball at their feet and have been quite happy to let oppositions dominate possession in their games. Both teams have had more than 50 percent of possession in just one of their respective games. The average possession for the two teams so far this season (45.71 percent for Mumbai and 42.42 percent for ATK) are reflective of their pragmatic approach towards the game.
Mumbai and ATK are also the league's poorest passers. The Kolkata outfit have completed 2,393 passes in their seven games while Mumbai's figure stands at 2,299, the worst in the league as things stand. Going forward, there is little to choose between the two teams as they have scored seven goals apiece. The two teams are among the bottom three in terms of shots attempted. Mumbai are eighth with 86 shots in their seven games, while ATK's tally of 60 shots in as many matches is the worst in the league.
The defensive numbers are where Costa's men seem to have the edge over Coppell's troops. Mumbai have kept four clean sheets so far this season — the most in the ISL so far — while ATK only managed their first shutout of the campaign in their previous game against struggling FC Pune City.
Mumbai are also the best tackling team in the league with 227 tackles compared to ATK's 161. Although tackles aren't always a measure of defensive resolve, it does reflect the tenacious nature of the Islanders. ATK are yet to hit their groove this season, with injuries to key players not affording Coppell the chance to settle on an eleven he believes can best execute his ideas.
Barring that horrific 5-0 thrashing at the hands of FC Goa, Mumbai have been very competitive in all their games. Their home form has been particularly impressive with the Islanders winning two out of the three matches. In their only loss at the Mumbai Football Arena, Costa's men were unlucky not to have found the equaliser before Jamshedpur's second goal killed the game.
"If we don’t count the Goa game, our team has been playing well, organised football and fighting in all the games for three points. Sometimes, you get lucky and get three points but other times, it is not possible. Our team is all that you can see, except the Goa game," coach Costa asserted in the pre-match press conference on Friday.
Heading into the game on Saturday, Mumbai are on a three-game winning run having notched up wins over Delhi Dynamos, Chennaiyin and NorthEast United. The key aspect of those wins that would please Costa even more is that his side managed to keep three straight clean sheets and haven't conceded since the fifth goal they let in at the Fatorda.
"The way that we played and our team spirit (shows) we are fighting a lot. Nobody gave anything to us. I am happy with the players, the spirit that they have in the group is amazing," coach Costa said praising his side's tenacity.
Over the past three seasons, Coppell's teams have been known to be slow starters who have picked up form as the business end of the season has approached. ATK have shown signs of recovery of late with the team losing just once in their last five games. The team's wins however have come against the bottom three sides in the league and the Kolkata outfit would be eager to take down one of the top performing teams.
Mumbai certainly qualify as one, but beating Costa's well-drilled and well-organised unit on their own patch will be a challenge for ATK. A team that has struggled to score goals and has injury concerns up top will have their task cut out against Mumbai's resolute defence.
"Our creative players have to get the ball in good positions to be able to break down what has been a very resolute defence. We need to be strong ourselves and again respect the attacking potential that Mumbai have," Coppell said ahead of the game insisting his side will not have it easy at the Mumbai Football Arena on Saturday.
A positive sign for ATK is that they have scored in their last five games. But without the services of Kalu Uche, Coppell will have to rely on former Mumbai City FC striker Balwant Singh to deliver the goods up front. ATK is likely to go with a similar line-up against Mumbai as they did against the game against Pune which brought up their third win and their first clean sheet of the season.
In defence, John Johnson is likely to be partnered by Andre Bikey with the duo flanked by another former Islander Aiborlang Khongjee on the right and Ricky Lallawmawma on the left. Gerson Viera and Pranoy Halder will provide the insurance policy in midfield, allowing to the attacking trio of Komal Thatal, Manuel Lanzarote and Everton Santos to provide supply for Balwant up top.
Costa would like to tinker very little with a combination that has delivered him three wins on the spin. Ahead of Amrinder Singh in goal, the back four of Souvik Chakrabarti, Lucian Goian, Joyner Laurenco and Subhashish Bose are likely to continue. In midfield, Paulo Machado, Sehnaj Singh and Milan Singh would most likely constitute the engine room, while Rafael Bastos, Modou Sougou and Arnold Issoko would most probably continue in a three-pronged attack.
Form and defensive organisation may hand Mumbai City FC the upper hand over a ATK side that have been anything but consistent so far. But the real highlight of the match is likely to come from the dugout where the league's most pragmatic coaches would try to outwit the other in what promises to be an enthralling tactical battle.