Atletico de Kolkata have been dealt with a severe blow ahead of their semi-final clash with one of their mainstays in defence, Arnab Mondal, doubtful for the contest after suffering an injury during a training session.
This has been the story of the inaugural winners in the tournament, which has easily been their most underwhelming of their last three seasons. A move to a new stadium and adapting to a new coach’s methods has so far been a transition that has not progressed smoothly.
Helder Postiga, much like last season, missed the initial run-in of his side while their fleet-footed winger, Sameehg Doutie was also sidelined for a few games during the latter part of the season. With striker Iain Hume not hitting the net as regularly as he did in the previous two seasons, ATK have suffered going forward.
ATK have remained solid in defence while playmaker Javi Lara has continued to seamlessly pull the strings from the middle of the park. In Postiga’s absence, Juan Belencoso fired in patches but the latter has largely earned a notorious reputation for missing good goalscoring opportunities.
Mumbai City FC have been the most balanced of all sides and ATK’s toils in front of goal will be ruthlessly exposed – Jose Molina’s side already had a taste of that against their semi-final opponents in Mumbai.
With Lucian Goian bringing up one great performance after another in defence, Mumbai, unlike previous seasons, have made a quantum leap from a side having a soft core to one that is miserly at the back.
Another bad news for Kolkata coming into this contest is the manner in which marquee man Diego Forlan and Indian veteran Sunil Chhetri have been combining up front. The unpredictable Matias Defederico and midfield general Krisztian Vadocz also make up for a mouth-watering attack, capable of scoring goals at any given point in the game.
In big tournaments, “peaking at the right time” is a phrase that bandied about by players and commentators alike, ever so often over the years. It looks as though Mumbai started theirs after thumping a high-flying Kerala Blasters side 5-0 at home. ATK on the other hand, just about managed labour into the final four.
Barring the Blasters, none of the other sides have been a force at home. That gives Alexandre Guimares’ carefully built side a handy advantage going into the match. ATK can only hope that the prolific Mumbai attacking line have an off day.
Venue: Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, Kolkata
Time: 7 pm IST
Last meeting: Atlético de Kolkata 0 - 1 Mumbai City FC, 25th October, 2016 at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, Kolkata
Head-to-head: Matches: 6, Atlético wins: 2, Mumbai wins: 3
Diego Forlan vs Tiri
With Mondal a doubtful starter, Tiri, with his experience will be crucial to ATK at the back. The Spaniard and his terrific displays were the reason behind his side going on a consistent run last year and reaching the semi-finals. This year, Tiri’s lofty standards have slipped down a notch, making a couple of careless mistakes that led to goals in the group stages.
The ATK defender has a stern test on his hands as he prepares to keep Forlan quiet. The Uruguayan, after a lackluster start has come into his own, and even has a hat-trick to his name. Unlike other strikers, Forlan drops deep and draws players like Chhetri and Defederico into the game. That is where the defensive duties of ATK’s midfield plays such a crucial part in the former champions’ fortunes in this game.
Krisztian Vadocz vs Javi Lara
The Hungarian midfielder, Vadocz has quietly established himself as one of the mainstays of the Mumbai side. Not only does he have a powerful shot and seamlessly stitch his side’s midfield and attack, but tracks back willingly.
ATK’s attacks largely flow through Lara. Mumbai would not be wrong in thinking that half the battle would be won if they keep the Spanish playmaker quiet.
Mumbai City: Amrinder Singh; Lucian Goian, Anwar Ali, Sehnaj Singh, Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte; Gerson, Cafu, Krisztian Vadocz; Sunil Chhetri, Matias Defederico, Diego Forlan
Atlético de Kolkata: Debjit Mazumder; Henrique Sereno, Tiri, Pritam Kotal, Prabir Das; Borja Fernandez, Jewel Raja; Abinash Ruidas, Javi Lara, Sameehg Doutie; Helder Postiga