An exhilarating Indian Super League season will crown its champion as ATK Mohun Bagan takes on Bengaluru FC for the title at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Saturday. A win for the Mariners can hand them their first ever ISL title, while the Blues could lift their second one, having last done so in the 2018-19 season.

ATKMB have been unbeaten in five games leading up to the final, conceding just once in those matches.

The club’s defensive prowess has been evident since the league phase, where they conceded just 17 goals all season, making them statistically the second-best defensive team in the league after Hyderabad FC. A solid defensive backline with Pritam Kotal and Brendan Hamill enabled the Mariners to achieve this feat.

However, in the last four games, Slavko Damjanovic has replaced Hamill at the heart of defence but ATK Mohun Bagan kept clean sheets in all those games. Asish Rai has been a threat down the right flank. In attack, the only player that head coach Juan Ferrando could be without is Ashique Kuruniyan, but the ATKMB coach claimed he will assess his player’s fitness levels in training before the final.

“In the last few games, (Bengaluru FC) have been very good and have played confidently. On the field, they look like a proper team. It will be very important to control this game from the start. The focus, as always, is on our team, and we have faith in our plan,” said Ferrando.

“(My players) worked hard even during Holi, Durga Puja or even Christmas time. It was difficult. One positive thing is, we learned about ourselves. If we are working together, we can change everything. Everything is in our hands. We don’t lose energy on excuses or negative feedback. Of course, it’s difficult to change your ways but the team worked in difficult moments to work together and believe in the positives.”

Despite beating League Shield winners Mumbai City FC on penalties in the semifinal, Bengaluru FC suffered their first regulation-time defeat of the year in the second leg. The Blues were on a ten-game winning run before the Islanders restored parity on aggregate and eventually lost on penalties.

But head coach Simon Grayson asserted that the team maintains a strong self-belief, one which helped them get through a tough start to the season and eventually notch up a run of 10-wins in a row.

“It is the belief (which has got us to where we are now). Belief in myself, that I was doing the right things. Belief in the players, that they would understand that I was doing the right thing and get the results that they deserved. And then believe in the instructions and get the results themselves. It was a massive part for us,” Grayson said in the pre-final press conference.

“I’m no different now than when we lost three-four games on the trot. I’m still positive with the players. We don’t get too carried away and not get too low. That has been the big thing I have try to put across the players. We still have to be humble and hardworking. On Friday, in training and on Saturday in the game to achieve what we need to do. Confidence has played a big part as well.”

Grayson has used Sunil Chhetri as an impact substitute and in the last five games, the 38-year-old has come on to score vital goals on three occasions. Grayson will likely field an unchanged XI in the final with Chhetri on the bench, while Roy Krishna and Sivasakthi Narayanan - who assisted their only goal last game – could start.

“Leaving someone of (Chhetri’s) quality, experience and professionalism out is a really tough decision. But as a coach, regardless if it’s Sunil Chhetri or Rohit Kumar, I have to make what I think is the right decision,” said Grayson.

“(ATKMB) are defensively very solid, they have some good defenders, and good competition for places. We will respect the opposition but I’m sure they’ll know that we have some decent players in our team. Hopefully when we’re talking after the game, it will have been a great advert for the ISL and Indian football,” he added.

In six Hero ISL encounters in the past, Bengaluru FC have only beaten ATKMB once and that came when the two sides last met at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan last month. The Mariners have beaten the Blues four times.