ISL semis: From Atletico's game plan to Chennaiyin's momentum, here are 10 talking points
Atletico did a Chennaiyin this year by coming so close yet so far. They, like Chennaiyin last year, can walk with their head held high after fighting tooth and nail to stay in the competition.
The build up to the second leg at the Salt Lake Stadium drew comparisons to last year’s dramatic semi-final when Chennaiyin came back from a 3-0 deficit in the first leg only to lose in extra-time against Kerala Blasters. And this match between Atletico de Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC lived up to it - paisa vasool, so to speak. Atletico went all out in attack, leading 2-0 with 10 mins left to play, but a late goal from Fikru Teffera ended Kolkata's title defence.
Here are ten talking points from this humdinger of a semi-final.
Atletico’s Game Plan
Chasing a three goal deficit after the first leg, Atletico simply had to attack through and through. It is, however, easier said than done. The home team went about their task assiduously.
Surprisingly, Dejan Lekic lead the charge with Iain Hume with Sameehg Doutie, Gavilan and Arata Izumi all providing the thrust in the attack. They set out to score as many as possible. The 23 shots taken with 13 of them on target speaks volume about the intent with which Atletico wanted to get back in the tie.
It has been clear that Chennaiyin’s attack is its most important asset. They have shown they can defend over their last five games, but it is not the face of the game they are most comfortable with. They saw through 90 minutes against FC Pune City in their last league match, but Atletico today was a different beast to tame. Chennaiyin played into Atletico’s hands by sitting back and letting them control the game. Chennaiyin did have their own chances - 14 shots with 6 on target is no laughing feat. But the intent to get a goal was missing. Why they didn’t kill the tie off early with the attack they have is a wonder.
The rock at the back - Apoula Edel Bete
Chennaiyin were saved their blushes, thanks to a monumental effort from Edel Bete - the man who arguably won the title for Atletico last year with a big performance in the final. He has proved to be a tremendous signing for Chennaiyin with six clean sheets - a tournament high - and 30 saves in 11 matches. On Wednesday, he almost single-handedly dragged Chennaiyin through with some terrific saves. The two goals that he let in - the first one undone by Bernard Mendy’s brain fade and the other an unstoppable beauty from Iain Hume - were no fault of his. Chennaiyin will look forward to the final, assured that their man between the sticks is at his peak.
Dejan Lekic - A Menace
We haven’t seen much of Dejan Lekic in this year’s ISL. Drafted in place of skipper Josemi, the 1.93m tall Serbian forward was a revelation. His height and movement both caused too much of a havoc with the back four of Chennaiyin. His ability to bring in the other players while holding up the play was also commendable. Pouncing on a gifted opportunity and providing Iain Hume with a sublime flick indicated the immense talent of this quiet but efficient striker. It is a pity that we won't be seeing more of him, this year at least.
Iain Hume’s wonder goal
What. A. Strike. Scoring a volley in football is in itself an art. Usually, we see this from a cross or from long range when the ball falls kindly to the striker. But Iain Hume’s strike was from another planet. He received the ball from the right, found Lekic with a neat touch and moved on expecting a return pass. The return ball was a flick that never touched the ground and was at an awkward height for Hume if he had to take it on his preferred right leg. He instead let the ball travel across his body and used his wrong foot to time the ball into the top right corner of the goal. Edel was truly beaten. The split second decision when he was actually making a run was what made it a truly wonderful goal. It has been another special season in India for the Canadian forward.
N. Mohanraj was lucky to be staying on the field for the full 90 minutes after showing violent behaviour right under the nose of the referee. That done, he eventually capped his evening with a miserable first touch that gifted the opportunistic Fikru his first goal of this year’s ISL. Haste makes waste, as they say. Goalkeeper Amrinder’s eagerness to get rid of the ball as soon as possible coupled with the lax work of the defender spelled doom for the defending champions.
Credit should go to Fikru for the Chennaiyin goal. Restarting play after a break, Fikru kicked the ball for a throw in instead of passing it back to the goalkeeper. It angered the Atletico bench, and to be fair to them, it was cunning and even unsportsmanlike behaviour from Fikru. But once Atletico showed the urgency to get the ball back in play, he sensed an opportunity and started moving from the midway mark towards the ball.
He made himself available when the Atletico defence got caught up in the moment and when the opportunity presented itself, deservedly got himself a goal. That said, unless Chennaiyin are desperate and absolutely bereft of ideas, this should hopefully be the last few minutes of Fikru for this year’s edition.
Bernard Mendy conundrum
A fan favourite, passionate and a seriously down-to-earth player but age really seems to have caught up with Bernard Mendy. Back to back games seem to knacker him a lot. Marco Materazzi has carefully rotated him so far, usually resting him away from home and playing him in front of the home fans. He even put in a rock-solid performance in the first leg in Pune.
In the second leg, Mendy turned out to be a liability in the early stages culminating in gifting the first goal to Atletico - a case of Christmas coming early. Later, he seemed to pull up his socks thanks to some inspiring show by Edel. Thankfully for him, the semi-final was half won in Pune. But a similar gaffe in the final would not bode well for the team.
Elano or Bruno?
Bruno Pelissari seems a much better fit on the left wing in a 4-4-2 / 4-3-3 variation preferred by Materazzi. Unfortunately for Elano, the games he has started there (read against Pune and Kolkata), Chennaiyin decided to sit back and defend. Tracking back clearly doesn’t suit him and he also drifts to the center more often than not. With Marco Materazzi reluctant to have an all Indian midfield pair of Harmanjot Khabra and Zakeer Mundampara - Elano playing instead of Jeje Lalpekhlua seems unlikely.
When Firstpost asked Materazzi if Bruno was ahead of Elano in the pecking order after the first leg in Pune, he had said it was purely a game-time decision for him and that he refuses to get into the politics of this. So it is a direct toss up between Elano and Bruno for the starting XI in Goa.
Winning Streak Snapped - Momentum sapped?
It may sound cliched, but Chennaiyin’s 2-1 defeat echoes that of Kerala’s 3-1 defeat at the Marina Arena last year. It is not just that a five game winning streak was broken, but as a team it would have been really good for the morale to go into the finals with a victory or at least a confident draw in the bag. The nerve wracking ending with Fikru’s late goal providing relief might play in the minds of the Chennaiyin players before the finals. But the Fatorda has been a really happy hunting ground for the Chennayin, so that could possibly bring them back to winning ways.
Atletico did a Chennaiyin this year by coming so close yet so far. They, like Chennaiyin last year, can walk with their head held high after fighting tooth and nail to stay in the competition. Chennaiyin will now go to Fatorda to deal with the high flying Goans in the hope of being crowned the champions this year.
Ahmed Jahouh, Bipin Singh and Jorge Diaz got their names on the score-sheet for the Islanders, while Parthib Gogoi scored his first goal for NorthEast United FC
ISL Matchweek 9: Mumbai City stay dominant, Blasters clinch 4th straigth win and more agony for bottom team
ISL 2022-23: As Mumbai City FC continue their winning run, here's a look at what happened in Matchweek 9 of the Indian Super League.
It was a fourth win on the trot for Mumbai City who went five points clear of Hyderabad FC (16 points) at the top of the ISL table.