The Kolkata outfit have had a difficult first half of the season and must find consistency to remain relevant in the race for the top four.
After picking up their first clean-sheet in the Indian Super League this season, ATK finally feel like a Steve Coppell team. But, the former Jamshedpur FC tactician, infamous for his strict defensive style, has had to work especially hard on this newly-stitched unit. Coppell changed his system against FC Pune City, which turned out to be a masterstroke.
Not only did ATK pick up an impressive win, but they also became only the third team this season to shut out the Stallions. An Ashique Kuruniyan inspired side troubled ATK at the Salt Lake Stadium. However, Coppell’s men withered the storm to pick up a crucial three points, taking them a point behind fourth-placed Jamshedpur FC.
But, ATK cannot afford to slack off. Crucial games against playoffs contenders are in place for them over the next month. As the Englishman insisted, they need to maintain their concentration and win a chunk of their next five games to remain in a fighting position before the Christmas break.
The Kolkata outfit will need to maintain defensive solidity. They could learn a thing or two from their next opponents, Mumbai City, who’ve grinded their way to crucial narrow victories on the road. Mumbai are serious contenders for the playoffs thanks to Jorge Costa’s pragmatic approach. The Islanders have been especially solid at the back, aided by a well-linked midfield.
Like Mumbai, ATK also have the resources to grind out victories. But consistency and commitment are key to their cause. Their back four, coupled with the two-man pivot, need to form an unbreakable link. Andre Bikey’s introduction in defence and Gerson Viera’s reassuring presence just ahead of the back four has strengthened their their shape.
The performance of Everton Santos will be in the rest of the campaign
However, they need to start working as a team. Their strong foreign defenders can only do so much, as both Aiborlang Khongjee and Ricky Lallawmawma need to get stuck in on their sides as well. Much of ATK’s opposition attacks come through the wings and the duo need to be more clever in containing them. They also need to improve their set-piece defending, which has been their bane so far.
The team also needs a leader at the back who can communicate with his teammates and hold the line. Be it the experienced Bikey or John Johnson, they need someone to inspire those around them and be a commanding figure in the backline.
The recovering Eugeneson Lyngdoh is probably the man to go with in midfield. Lyngdoh is not only a hard-working midfielder, but can also free up Manuel Lanzarote because of his creative side. The Spaniard has been struggling on the goalscoring front, having only netted one this season and needs to be given some freedom in the final third. Cavin Lobo can also be used as a third-midfielder to shut off opponents in difficult away games.
- ISL TOTW 7: Lenny Rodrigues, Brandon Fernandes among the best in the league
- ISL Phase 2 Talking Points: Do FC Goa have the best foreign contingent in the league?
- FC Goa’s Ferran Corominas aiming to win second consecutive ISL Golden Boot
The ATK captain often comes deep, trying to carve out clever through-balls or long-balls for his wingers. He deserves someone else freeing him up, as his fantastic goalscoring ability is well known. The Spaniard also needs help from his strikers, Balwant Singh and Everton Santos, who need to be more prolific in front of goal. New-signing Emiliano Alfaro, who scored 9 goals for FC Pune City last season, also needs to prove his mettle.
Coppell can revert to a 4-3-3 formation if needed, with Alfaro leading the line. ATK’s wing-backs need to be more alert and better with their crosses to create chances for the strikers, which they’ve failed to do. While their attacking problems are second-fold now, they need to maintain a committed defensive structure to attain points consistently.
Coppell’s side are good enough on set-pieces and through the middle to create a few goalscoring opportunities. They need to concentrated on solidifying their defence. The Englishman will hope they maintain the narrow shape which attained them a clean-sheet against the Stallions and that one was the first of many to come.