ISL 2019-20: Free-flowing ATK provide toughest challenge yet to Jorge Costa's resurgent Mumbai City FC
With three wins on the trot and an unbeaten run of six matches, Mumbai City FC will have cause for optimism when they take on ATK FC at the Mumbai Football Arena
Many believed that Mumbai City FC side would struggle to qualify for the playoffs, but with a three-match winning streak under their belt, the Islanders yet again find themselves firmly in the mix for a shot at the title.
ATK are one of the few teams in the league who are capable of seamlessly switching formations whenever required, making them a difficult proposition in terms of tactics.
One of the major concerns for Costa is the absence of Paulo Machado, whose passing ability has made him a crucial cog in the Mumbai City setup.
Doubting Jorge Costa is something you do at your own peril. Much like last season, the Portuguese manager began the season poorly, leading many to believe that his Mumbai City FC side would struggle to qualify for the playoffs, but with a three-match winning streak under their belt, the Islanders yet again find themselves firmly in the mix for a shot at the title. Meanwhile, ATK can take heart from their win over defending champions Bengaluru FC, after hitting a slight bump in their campaign with a draw against Hyderabad FC and a defeat at the hands of FC Goa.
On the face of it, this tie favours ATK, whose attacking style of play under Antonio Habas has taken the league by surprise. The two-time champions currently employ two of the most lethal attackers in the league — Roy Krishna and David Williams — and also boast a decent away record. Mumbai, on the other hand, have a defence that's leakier than a rusty tap, and have let in 17 goals in just ten games. Their home form is also questionable, seeing as their win against Hyderabad on 29 December was just their first of the season at the Mumbai Football Arena. In spite of their differing trajectories, however, ATK head into this fixture with a slender two-point advantage over Mumbai, making this a must-win match for both teams.
While Mumbai have scored a lot of goals this campaign, their defence has let them down on multiple occasions, and up against the likes of ATK, this could prove to be fatal. ATK are one of the few teams in the league who are capable of seamlessly switching formations whenever required, making them a difficult proposition in terms of tactics. Under Habas, their preferred choice of formation is an attacking 3-4-1-2 on paper, which looks more like a 3-5-2 on the field. The pace and width provided by wing-backs Michael Soosairaj and Prabir Das allows ATK to get past the defensive line of their opponents and creates space for their strikers to get in on goal. If pressed, they are also capable of adopting a more traditional 4-4-2, something Costa is well aware of.
"This is not the first time we’re playing against ATK. Yeah, it’s true that preparations are different when the opposition plays a different system, but we also know that they can play four at the back, so we need to be prepared for both alternatives. In the first game in Kolkata, I think we played really well, and at the end of the game, I said that I was not sure if we won one point or lost two points. We are ready, we know what to do, no matter what they choose to start with," said the Mumbai City head coach.
A positive sign for Costa is that Senegalese attacker Modou Sougou appears to have finally found his scoring boots, scoring twice against Hyderabad FC after a barren spell in front of goal. Last season, Sougou was one of the highlights of the Indian Super League, scoring an impressive 12 goals as Mumbai reached the playoffs, but this time around, he's seen himself shifted onto the wing in a bid to replace departed winger Arnold Issoko. Despite a lack of goals, however, the attacker insisted he was happy to be playing a part in the team, saying, "I don’t mind doing anything, I just want to play, because I prefer to be on the pitch, rather than be on the outside. Last season I scored a lot of goals, but we didn’t win, so I wasn’t happy. This season, if we win the league, I’ll be happy even if I don’t score a lot of goals."
One of the major concerns for Costa is the absence of Paulo Machado, whose passing ability has made him a crucial cog in the Mumbai City setup. The Portuguese central midfielder has been ruled out until the end of the season, and Costa spoke candidly about the effect his absence would have on the team, saying, "Paulo Machado is out for the rest of the season, and it is my job as head coach to find a resolution. It’s impossible to replace him, we don’t have anyone like him in our team. But it’s also true that I have 25 players available, and I trust all of them. In the last game we didn’t have Machado, we didn’t have Borges, and we still won. If we continue playing as a team, we can do whatever we put our mind to."
However, despite ruing the lack of options available to replace Machado, Costa reiterated that he was happy with the team and that buying a player in the transfer window was not crucial to his plans, saying, "It’s always difficult in the transfer period. We have not closed our doors, we’re trying to see if something good can happen. But it’s not easy to find good solutions in January. At the moment, I’m happy with this team, and even if we can’t bring in anyone, I’ll be happy till the end of the season."
Costa was quietly confident in the build-up to the match, saying, "If I thought it’s impossible to win against ATK, I wouldn’t be sitting here in the press conference for 15 minutes saying we want the three points. With all respect to ATK, and their manager, and their team, and their budget, I believe in my players. We have potential, quality and we have hope."
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