ISL 2019-20, ATK vs Bengaluru FC: Another tactical battle on cards as Kolkata aim for turnaround in semi-final
Like the first leg semi-final between ATK and Bengaluru FC, we are up for another tactical battle which has all the potential to be another cagey affair. And with final spot and reputations at stake, we are assured of a give-it-all fight.
Bengaluru FC won the first leg of the ISL semi-final 1-0 against ATK at home
Bengaluru are without Nishu Kumar for the second leg while Alber Serran is highly doubtful
ATK don't have any suspension or injury concerns as they aim for a turnaround in second leg
Bengaluru FC are in the 'Mecca' of Indian football with a mission on their hands. The mission to make it to the final of Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 season. They come to Kolkata with 1-0 lead from the first leg of the semi-final tie against ATK where Deshorn Brown's strike at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium last week proved to be the difference. Now it's time for a battle at the Salt Lake Stadium. And with just a slender lead for Bengaluru and 90 more minutes of action left, both teams have everything to play for.
There are bigger things at stake apart from the spot in the final, which make no mistake is massive, but along with that, bigger reputations are also at stake. Bengaluru are in their third season of the ISL and have made it to the final in both of the previous occasions. They also boasted an amazing record in the I-League before making a jump into the ISL. With six trophies in six seasons, Bengaluru have claimed the unofficial spot of being the best football club in the country for some time now. And while losing in semi-final is never a bad result, it is not the same as the fighting for the trophy in the final, not to forget the winner in final will also get the AFC Cup play-off spot.
On the other hand, ATK brought back their popular manager Antonio Lopez Habas at the start of the season to turnaround their fortunes. Habas, who coached ATK in their first two seasons had led the team to the title in the very first one along with a semi-final spot in the second. Habas' return to Kolkata was romantic but pure business in the end. ATK, apart from bringing back the Spanish coach, also dug deeper in their pockets for the transfer market. Expensive deals for captain Roy Krishna and David Williams were struck. And while losing in semi-final will not be a bad result for ATK either, in the complex structure of Indian football with the financial pressure lurking behind, quick results are also the priority. And such a scenario puts a much higher price on what was already a do-or-die battle.
BFC have the edge
It's no rocket science that Bengaluru walk into the match with an edge over the home team. Having won the home leg with a clean sheet, Bengaluru have successfully negotiated the spectre of an away goal. Carles Cuadrat's side hasn't been the most prolific of goalscoring unit, in fact, they have forced the least number of goals amongst the four semi-finalists, but what works in their advantage is their almost impregnable defence. With forwards struggling in front of goal, the reigning champions forged a steely defense which only conceded 13 goals in the league — the lowest.
That steely defence should once again be the foundation for Bengaluru in the second leg semi-final with the hopes of goals hinging on set-pieces. The team from South India are known as good exploiters of set-pieces and it will be important for ATK defenders to stay on their toes to avoid making any mistakes or giving away silly fouls.
It's a massive matchday in Kolkata as the Blues look to make their way past ATK in the second leg of the @IndSuperLeague semifinal.
— Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) March 8, 2020
“We expect a very tough game. It is the most important game for ATK in the last three seasons. They didn’t reach the play-offs in the last two seasons and for us, it can be a third final in a row,” Cuadrat said ahead of the match. Interestingly, Bengaluru have massive defensive concerns to sort out for in the second leg semi-final. Albert Serran picked up an injury in the first leg and remains highly doubtful for Sunday clash while left-back Nishu Kumar will miss the match due to the red card he received. Cuadrat will need to rejig his defence with Rahul Bheke expected to play as center-back. This here is a window of opportunity for Habas' side.
ATK rely on home advantage
The first leg is a story of past. But with the second leg at home, ATK have their destiny in their own hands. They have been a formidable side in Kolkata with winning six of nine matches at home. 18 of their 33 goals came in Kolkata. Krishna and Williams are massive goal threats on their night. But Habas still needs to work a little on his line-up. After a lackluster performance in the first leg, we could see Mandi Sosa and Jayesh Rane making a start for ATK.
There are no injury or suspension concerns for Habas and few tweaks here and there could do enough for the coach to get the desired result.
“Our aim is to win the game and be in the final. My duty as a coach is to prepare the team for the challenge. It is an important challenge for ATK. We are prepared. We have to try to get goals. We need the support of the fans. I think it is very important to score goals but it's very very important not to concede,” said Habas.
It's difficult to pick a winner in this tie. ATK have the home advantage, a forward line with a huge appetite and a strong defence but Bengaluru have a slim advantage with 1-0 home win and the big game temperament which has seen them win trophies after trophies. What we know is that like first leg, we are up for another tactical battle which has all the potential to be another cagey affair. And with final spot and reputations at stake, we are assured of a give-it-all fight.
Goals from Alberto Noguera (35') and Devendra Dhaku Murgaokar (59') sealed the deal for the Gaurs on a rainy afternoon even as Army Green squandered many opportunities.
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The 29-year-old has signed a contract that will run until the end of the 2021-22 season.