Bengaluru FC will hope to shrug off poor recent form when they take on ATK in the first leg of the Indian Super League semi-final clash at the Sree Kanteerava stadium in Sunday.
The league’s two best defensive teams will go head-to-head for a place in the final on March 14 in Goa. Bengaluru FC have let in only 13 goals while ATK have conceded three more.
Thus all the onus of making a difference in the semi-final will be on the team’s attacking forces, an area where the Kolkata outfit has a clear egde over their opponents.
Only FC Goa and Chennaiyin have scored more goals that ATK (33) this season and in Roy Krishna and David Williams, they have proven goal scorers in their ranks.
Bengaluru FC, despite the presence of Sunil Chhetri in their frontline have found goals hard to come by this campaign. They have found the net only on 22 occasions this season and only the bottom two sides, NorthEast United and Hyderabad FC have scored fewer.
The other problem for Bengaluru FC is that they have scored only eight goals from open play and have been heavily reliant on set-pieces. It’s an area where they have continuously outfoxed their opponents with new tricks and routines, but against a well-oiled team like ATK, it may not be enough.
Team Stats 2019-20 season- Bengaluru FC and ATK
|Top goalscorer||Sunil Chhetri (9 goals)||Roy Krishna (14 goals)|
Bengaluru FC have dominated ATK in the ISL and it was only this season when the Kolkata outfit posted their first win over the defending champions. That remains their only success over the JSW-owned outfit in six meetings.
Bengaluru had done the double over ATK last two seasons, but Habas’ men have managed to avoid defeat to the defending champions this term. Two more games at the semi-final stage are only going to spice up this growing rivalry.
Bengaluru FC vs ATK head-to-head record
Cuadrat will be delighted with the return of Chhetri who found his scoring boots in the penalty-shootout defeat to Maziya in the AFC Cup qualifier.
The defending champions have no other injuries to worry about and the Spaniard will have plenty of options to choose from for the semi-final clash.
Habas will be without the services of experienced Indian centre-back Anas Edathodika and Spanish defender Agus Garcia Iniguez for the trip to the Sree Kanteerava stadium.
A battle of chess
Cuadrat and Habas are one of the most astute tacticians in the top division. They are known to surprise the opponents with their tactics and have a good record in the big games.
The mutual respect for each other was quite evident from their pre-match comments.
“I think it will be an absolutely competitive match because two organised teams will be playing (against each other). Bengaluru is a very good team, balanced and very competitive. They are one of the favourites. Until now, Bengaluru are the champions and we have to respect them,” said Habas.
Cuadrat too praised his opposite number and hailed the defensive abilities of the two teams.
“ATK are a very good team. It will be a tactical battle between two teams that work a lot in defence. The offensive things depend more on the creativity of the players. ATK and Bengaluru know these things very well what they are doing in defence. It will be an interesting semi-final,” said Cuadrat.
Habas has used a three-man defence throughout the season with the Spaniard having plenty of options in terms of personnel to play this system. Prabir Das, Sumit Rathi and Pritam Kotal have all shuttled between centre-back and wing-back positions this season, to provide the coach with plenty of flexibility.
Michael Soosairaj has also been deployed in the role as a more attacking option and it has paid dividends with the Indian scoring three times this season playing in that role. The most recent one came against Bengaluru FC in their previous match to secure a late point for ATK.
Soosairaj’s ability to make runs into the box has caused problems for defences and Bengaluru will have to watch out for it if he plays in the left-wing-back position.
Up front, Roy Krishna has been paired with a host of players including Williams, Edu Garcia and Balwant Singh. The goals have always come for the Fijian irrespective of his partner which will give Habas confidence of registering at least one away goal in Bengaluru.
Bengaluru FC usually line up in their 4-3-3 formation, but Cuadrat has switched to a back three in both the matches against ATK, simply to match their system.
Although Bengaluru haven’t had great success in doing so this season, Cuadrat’s hand may be forced as he will have to nullify the threat of ATK’s flying wing-backs.
He wouldn’t want Chhetri tracking the wing-back all evening and see him stuck in their own half trying to avoid overloads on the flanks that ATK’s 3-5-2 formation aims to achieve.
If he has to stick to the 4-3-3, he would be forced to put Chhetri up top and go with Udanta and Ashique Kuruniyan on the flanks. That would severely reduce Bengaluru’s goal threat as Deshorn Brown would have to make way and Ashique and Udanta have a rather poor track record when it comes to scoring or creating goals.
On the other hand, Bengaluru are well-equipped to play the three-man defence with Rahul Bheke dropping into central defence alongside Albert Serran and Juanan. In Nishu Kumar and Ashique, the hosts have tailor-made wing-backs that can allow both Chhetri and Brown to function in the central area of the pitch that they prefer.
The onus then will be on Erik Partaalu to join the attack and pose a threat to ATK as Dimas Delgado and Suresh Wangjam sit behind to shield the defence.
The three-man defence will also provide Bengaluru better protection against ATK’s front two on transitions, thus allowing their attacking players a lot more freedom to play.
It will be interesting to see how the two coaches line up their teams for this big clash and if there are any surprises in store. Whatever the team selection, one can expect a fierce tactical battle between the two teams with a place in the final on the line.
There is little to separate the two sides, but the current form and squad depth give ATK a slight edge.