One among the many undercurrents that add intrigue to Indian Super League final is the battle that will unfold on one of the flanks at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Saturday.
Chennaiyin FC’s Lallianzuala Chhangte has been enjoying a glorious season, operating down their left flank, and has contributed seven goals. In fact, he has the most goals from open play for an Indian player in this campaign.
Manning the same flank for ATK, in his capacity as a wing-back, will be the incisive Prabir Das. The Bengal-born player has re-invented himself this season and has tallied five assists.
Given the importance both players have in their team’s tactical setup, the one who ends up on top of this battle on Saturday is likely to have a huge say in where the ISL trophy ends up.
Chhangte’s move to Chennaiyin has paid handsome rewards with the 22-year-old enjoying one of his best season. He is a willing runner down that left wing for Owen Coyle’s side, an ever-present outlet in attack.
His electric pace and trickery make him a very difficult customer to deal, with and more often than not leaves defenders in his wake. He has improved his finishing as the season has progressed, often finding himself in the right place at the right time. Importantly, most of his goals have come in crucial games with the latest two coming in either leg of Chennaiyin’s playoff tie against FC Goa.
“He (Chhangte) was the one that has worked really hard. Chhangte does very difficult things very easily. Penetrating behind the lines is a very tough thing in football to do, but he does that with ease. He works so hard for the team,” said Coyle.
Prabir is also an ever-present option for ATK down the right wing. Das also does not lack for pace and uses it to good effect. The sight of the 26-year-old galloping down the wing to get into promising positions is a regular sight in ATK’s matches.
However, his main weapon is his crosses. Prabir’s deliveries into the box is dangerous to say the least and ATK forwards Roy Krishna and David Williams will stand testimony to that. Krishna and Williams scored a goal each from his crosses in the second leg of their playoff tie against Bengaluru FC as ATK completed a terrific comeback.
“Prabir and Williams played at a very high-level. When you win, you have protagonists. There were two. The first goal (by Krishna) was a very difficult one. Prabir was excellent,” said coach Antonio Habas after the semi-final triumph.
Incidentally, both Prabir and Chhangte do their work defensively as well. Prabir perhaps a bit more, thanks to his role as a wing-back. However, Chhangte doesn’t lag far behind and is seen regularly helping out left-back Jerry Lalrinzuala.
As much as the Chhangte and Prabir offensive skills are going to be key in the final, their defensive work in trying to nullify each other will be crucial. It’s a battle that promises excitement and intrigue.
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