The Former ISL Champions have lost both their games so far this campaign.
After the manner in which ATK put together a star-studded team in the summer, not many could have predicted their difficult predicament after their first two matches. Lingering at the bottom of the Indian Super League table, the season could not have started on a more disappointing note for Steve Coppell. The Englishman was relied on to steady the sinking ship after a disastrous campaign last time out, but things do not look to have improved this time so far.
ATK had a really busy transfer window earlier this year, where they completely revamped their squad which flopped badly last time out. Out went many of the players who were involved last season and they made a flurry of signings. It seemed like the ATK management had finally headed the logic of signing players who had proven themselves in the ISL and could lead them to success this season. But, going by their lacklustre start, that has not been the case.
From last year, only a handful of players have been retained by ATK. Only one of those players, Jayesh Rane, has been a regular (so far) in the starting XI. The former ISL champions decided to have a well-advertized pre-season in Spain, where Coppell was expected to help the team gel as a unit. Having inherited a completely new squad, it has evidently been difficult for the Englishman to find his best XI and injuries to key players haven’t helped his cause.
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Watch: ATK have lost both of their games in the ISL till now
The team just hasn’t gained any sense of “togetherness” as a unit and are not on the same page. The attacking players don’t seem to have any chemistry and often scuffle up easy chances, while the defenders have suffered from lapses in concentration quite a few times as well. Coppell wants the ball to be frequently given to ATK’s new captain, Manuel Lanzarote, who was their unofficial marquee signing for the season.
Lanzarote had a terrific season with FC Goa last time, contributing to 19 goals for the Gaurs. He showed incredible vision in creating chances and an ability to score, which impressed ATK enough to make him among their highest paid stars. But, even Lanzarote has been overwhelmed by the pressure on his shoulders so far this season. Even though he has been their biggest threat going forward and struck the post twice, Lanzarote has been forced to delve deep into the midfield to get things rolling and create chances.
ATK’s biggest bane so far though, has been their work on the wings, which Coppell generally likes to operate through. Balwant Singh and Everton Santos have both been shuffled around on the wings in their first two matches and their lack of trickery and crossing ability has nulified their impact. Rane has been extremely underwhelming and failed to create any opportunities so far. What has made things worse is the inefficiency of their full-backs in Airborlang Khongjee and Sena Ralte, who’ve been almost nonexistent going forward and provided no threat on either wing.
It’s understandable why Coppell refrains his full-backs from going forward, as neither of them have shown any intent. But, if things don’t get easier for Lanzarote, it could cause his game to implode. The winger has already looked a dejected figure after suffering two losses in his first two games at ATK and he visibly needs more support uofront.
With Eugeneson Lyngdoh presumably fully fit, the experienced midfielder needs to be played instead of the underwhelming Noussair El Maimouni. Lyngdoh not only brings more steel to ATK but is very creative and can help to stitch some chances for his side. In two substitute appearances, he has already looked more dangerous than much of ATK’s attack and even forced a stunning save out of Dheeraj Singh in the first match.
Eugene can also partner Pronoy Halder pretty well and give Halder the license to sit behind, which he’s comfortable at. Halder plays really well just in front of the back four and can sniff out attacks and play as a crunching ball-winner for his side. Sheikh Faiaz and Hitesh Sharma should also be involved to bring some creativity and energy into ATK’s final third, which has been diligent till now.
Kalu Uche and Andre Bikey, two of ATK’s big foreign signings, are also expected to be fully fit after the international break. Uche proved himself as a clinical striker last season and will definitely give Lanzarote more options to express himself in the final third, while putting an end to their goal-draught. Bikey can add steel to ATK’s defence and use his experience to stop any kind of lapse in concentration from taking place. The Cameroonian defender knows very well how to play under Coppell and could be the leader ATK have been missing so far.
Coppell put much emphasis on the lack of continuity in ATK’s squad this season being the prime reason for their failures so far. However, after spending big-money to build such a luxurious squad, excuses can only be tolerated for a certain amount of time. ATK need to get back to playing the exciting, winning football they played under their Spanish regime. Unless the squad can find that cutting edge and missing chemistry to do so, another gloomy season could follow for the former ISL champions.