The two-time ISL winners have put together a mighty team and are being regarded as one of the favourites to win the competition this season.
After a disastrous last season, Kolkata-based Indian Super League (ISL) outfit ATK seem to have learned a lesson and are looking bright for the forthcoming campaign. The Red and Whites finished in ninth position, only ahead of NorthEast United in last place. A season filled with injuries and failed tactics, provided them with few moments of joy. However, ATK have made several changes in their squad as well as in their coaching staff, ahead of the new campaign, as they have brought in former Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters head coach Steve Coppell, as the gaffer of the outfit.
In the following article, we take you through a refurbished ATK side, along with their strengths, weaknesses, probable formations and more.
Last Season’s Performance
If talked about briefly, disappointment would be an understatement to describe ATK’s campaign in the 2017-18 season. As mentioned earlier, the Kolkata outfit finished in ninth place in the league standings, just ahead of NorthEast United at the bottom of the table. The Teddy Sheringham and later Ashley Westwood and Robbie Keane coached side registered only four wins in the entire season and lost games against rivals Kerala Blasters and FC Goa on the trot.
Indeed, the 2017-18 season serves as a lesson for the Kolkata-based side, best not be repeated anytime soon, if they want to return to their former heights.
ATK went to Spain in August to conduct their pre-season tour. During their stay in Spain, the Red and Whites played five friendly games, including one against Premier League side Fulham FC. In the five friendly fixtures, they won three against Lorca FC, Real Murcia and CD Almunecar City whereas lost games against Fulham and FC Jumila.
Steve Coppell was appointed as the head coach of ATK for the 2018-19 ISL season
After a failed stint by three tacticians in Sheringham, Westwood and Keane, ATK appointed Coppell as the head coach of the squad for the upcoming season. The former Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur tactician will be accompanied by former Mohun Bagan head coach Sanjoy Sen as the assistant coach. Former England U-21 goalkeeping coach Bobby Mimms will oversee the custodians in Debjit Majumder, Avilash Paul and Arindam Bhattacharya.
However, the biggest gain for ATK in this season in the support staff would have to be the acquisition of former Bagan and East Bengal physical trainer Djair Miranda Garcia, who is regarded as one of best physios in the country after his stint with the Kolkata giants. Garcia had a giant role in the revival of the career of former Mariners and Mumbai City striker Balwant Singh, who went on to become one of the highest scoring Indians in the ISL last season.
ATK retained only a handful of players from the 2017-18 season. The summer of 2018 saw the Kolkata outfit sign a string of players for different roles. Kalu Uche became the first overseas signing for them, joining from league rivals Delhi Dynamos. Defender John Johnson and midfielder Manuel Lanzarote joined from Bengaluru FC and FC Goa respectively. The Red and Whites also secured the services of former Mumbai City and Jamshedpur defenders Gerson Vieira and Andre Bikey. Forward Everton Santos and Moroccan midfielder Noussair El Mimouni also joined the side a few days ago.
In the domestic contingent, ATK retained the services of Debjit Majumder, Jayesh Rane, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Prabir Das, Hitesh Sharma and Komal Thatal from last season. Meanwhile, the following players also joined the team in the summer: Balwant Singh (Mumbai City FC), H Lalmuankima (Aizawl FC), SK. Faiaz (Mohun Bagan), Cavin Lobo (East Bengal), Malsawmzuala (Bengaluru FC), Pronay Halder (FC Goa), Sena Ralte (Delhi Dynamos), Ricky Lallawmawma (Mohun Bagan), Aiborlang Khongjee (Mumbai City FC), Ankit Mukherjee (Mohammedan SC), Arnab Mondal (East Bengal), Avilash Paul (Aizawl FC), Arindam Bhattacharya (Mumbai City FC), Boris Singh (will join from Indian Arrows from 2019-20 onwards).
ATK letgo of all their foreign players from last season, along with the majority of their domestic stars. Here is a list of those who left the outfit seeking other opportunities:
Goalkeepers: Kunzang Bhutia, Jussi Jaaskelainen
Defenders: Nallappan Mohanraj, Tom Thorpe, Jordi Montel, Keegan Pereira, Anwar Ali, Augustin Fernandes, Ashutosh Mehta.
Midfielders: Conor Thomas, Carl Baker, Darren Caldeira, Shankar Sampingiraj, Rupert Nongrum, Ronald Singh, Bipin Singh.
Forwards: Njazi Kuqi, Zequinha, Robbie Keane, Robin Singh.
Debjit Majumder, Prabir Das, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Jayesh Rane, Arindam Bhattacharya, Avilash Paul, Arnab Mondal, Hitesh Sharma, Ankit Mukherjee, Aiborlang Khongjee, Ricky Lallawmawma, Sena Ralte, Pronay Halder, Malsawmzuala, Cavin Lobo, Sheikh Faiaz, H Lalmuankima, Komal Thatal, Balwant Singh, John Johnson, Manuel Lanzarote Bruno, Kalu Uche, Gérson Vieira, Noussair El Mimouni, André Bikey, Éverton Santos.
Formation & Tactics
Plying his trade in the #10 role, Lanzarote will play behind former Delhi Dynamos striker Kalu Uche
Known for his defence-first approach, Coppell is expected to line his team up in his trademark 4-2-3-1 formation. Debjit Majumder, despite having a disappointing last season is expected to start under the bar. Looking at Coppell’s ideologies, he is expected to start John Johnson and Andre Bikey in the heart of the defence. Gerson Vieira can be a deputy for either in the later stages of the league, or as a substitute along with veteran Indian defender Arnab Mondal. Sena Ralte and Prabir Das are expected to start on the wings, with Ricky and Aiborlang Khongjee kept as substitutes for the flanks.
In the midfield, Pronay Halder and Eugeneson Lyngdoh are expected to play in a double pivot with the latter acting as a box-to-box midfielder and Halder in a defensive role. Moroccan midfielder El Mimouni could be a valuable addition to the team later in the game, along with Malsawmzuala, who can also deputize in the central pivot. The left wing will be occupied by Everton Santos, with Faiaz plying his trade on the right.
Lanzarote, who was regarded as one of the best attacking midfielders in the league last season, has a guaranteed place in Coppell’s ideology. Plying his trade in the #10 role, he will play behind former Delhi striker Uche.
Coppell could shift to a 4-1-3-2 with Eugenson making way for Balwant Singh
However, looking at the squad depth and shall the need arise, Coppell can also choose to start his team in a 4-1-3-2 shape, with Balwant replacing Lyngdoh in the team. Here, the wingers in Santos and Faiaz will have added defensive responsibility, if the ATK gaffer decides to go for a more attacking formation in the forthcoming season.
After a busy transfer window in the summer, ATK have shaped up as a mighty side. However, the biggest strength of the Kolkata outfit lies in their attack. The Red and Whites had endured problems in scoring goals last season, but if everything goes according to plan, ATK will have an infinite supply of goals this term.
Uche was one of the highest scoring strikers last season and with Lanzarote playing just behind him, his tally is expected to speak for itself. Also, Mumbai City’s enigmatic attacker Santos adds much-needed pace on the left wing, whereas the raw talent of Faiaz furthers the cause as well.
Despite heavy spending on outfield players, ATK have not gone all out for goalkeepers, in particular, this season. Although, they have added the likes of Avilash Paul and Arindam Bhattacharya to their arsenal, Majumder is expected to guard the net in the coming campaign, which could be an area of weakness in Coppell’s ranks.
ATK kick-off their campaign with a home match against Kerala Blasters on 29th September
Players To Watch
After a hugely successful season last time around, while playing for FC Goa, the Spaniard will be on the radar of every opposition this season. The 34-year-old forward scored 13 goals last campaign, the same number of goals his current teammate Uche scored playing for the Dynamos. With his killer instincts and amicable support from all over the pitch, the Spaniard will be one of the players to look out for once again this term.
One of the main reasons for Bengaluru FC’s defensive prowess in recent times, Johnson was one of the best defenders in last season’s ISL. The 30-year-old played all the games for the Blues and is expected to replicate his performances in the Red and White kit. A ball-playing defender, Johnson had a pass completion rate of 75.74% last term and was regarded as one of the leaders on the pitch.
One of the deadliest strikers in the ISL last season, Uche is expected to carry his form into the new campaign. The 35-year-old Nigerian scored 13 goals last term and with Lanzarote playing just behind him, it will be exciting to see him don the ATK colours. In the pre-season in Spain, Uche has performed amicably and could finally end ATK’s goal drought from the 2017-18 season.
The tickets for ATK’s home games can be booked on BookMyShow and the club’s official website.
What To Expect
Considering the busy summer for ATK, anything less than a playoffs spot would be a disappointment for the side. The Kolkata outfit have strengthened themselves in every spot and signed some of the most exciting players in the ISL this season.
With a shrewd tactician in Coppell at the helm, a top-four spot for the Red and Whites looks very likely. Despite his defensive mentality, the inclusions of attacking players such as Lanzarote, Uche, Balwant and Santos, calls for an attacking display and with a bit of luck, they may even break FC Goa’s goalscoring record set just the season before.