The two teams are separated by just one goal which makes it a highly-anticipated game in the second leg.
Bengaluru FC hold the upper hand in their Indian Super League (ISL) playoffs tie against ATK with a narrow 1-0 win at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. The two meet again on Sunday, but this time in Kolkata, where the two-time ISL champions will make a charge to turn around the small deficit.
The first leg was a particularly cagey affair, which was only decided by a mistake from Arindam Bhattacharya allowing Deshorn Brown to score a rather easy goal. Both teams worked hard, but a few aspects were made clear which will be tested once again in the second leg.
Here are five things we learned from their recent encounter –
5. ATK lack a proper threat from wide areas
ATK put their best cards on the table in Bengaluru, but failed to break down the defending champions’ backline apart from that goal ruled out in the first half. Roy Krishna and David Williams continued to threaten with their link-up play, while Edu Garcia’s movement perhaps troubled them the most. However, the Blues were relatively comfortable in protecting their lead.
ATK particularly lacked threat from their wide areas, where Prabir Das and Michael Soosairaj both failed to impress. They couldn’t create much nor stretch the Blues as much as they would’ve wanted. But, with Nishu Kumar’s unavailability, the visitors will be vulnerable defending out wide. Unless ATK can take advantage of it to destabilize Bengaluru’s shape, they could be in line for more frustration in Kolkata.
4. Bengaluru FC remain over-reliant on Sunil Chhetri’s impact
Despite coming off from a small period on the sidelines due to injury, Sunil Chhetri got no breathing room against ATK. He was forced to assume the attacking burden right from the getgo, with the Blues hoping their skipper would save the day once again. To Chhetri’s credit, he worked the hardest and showed no signs of rust despite not playing the last few weeks.
He tested Arindam, provided defensive cover and was a menace down the left. But, Bengaluru need to look beyond their captain. Rather than over-burdening him with responsibilities, other players must support him and try to create or finish off opportunities themselves.
3. David Williams will be ATK’s biggest threat in Kolkata
While Krishna has been getting all the acclaim for ATK’s heroics this season, Williams has been the more prolific man in this fixture. Not only did he score the winner in ATK’s one and only win over Bengaluru FC in the ISL, but almost salvaged something in the first leg.
But, that was a glimpse of how his sparky style can trouble Bengaluru’s defence. Williams’ energetic nature has been a pain for the defending champions and come the second leg, he’ll look to tune up his style to do maximum damage. The Aussie striker will be bent to break down the visitors’ pattern with his clever movement and put his unpredictable striking skills to good use.
2. Bengaluru FC unable to work set-piece magic against ATK
After the first leg, Antonio Habas boasted about how his side averted Bengaluru FC’s attempts to hurt them via set-pieces. Apart from Dimas Delgado’s strike in the 2-2 draw, Bengaluru’s corners and indirect free-kicks have all been combated without trouble by the Kolkata giants.
But, with the likes of Erik Paartalu, Juanan, Rahul Bheke all well capable of converting Dimas’ inviting set-pieces, they can pounce at any given moment. The Kolkata giants must maintain utmost concentration when defending the unpredictable set-pieces of Bengaluru in the second leg. A momentary lapse at any given point could result in a crucial away goal for the Blues and take the tie away from ATK.
1. The midfield battle to decide the tie
ATK and Bengaluru FC both play with a relatively stacked three-man midfield, keeping a tight narrow line to suppress the supply through the middle. The reason for the first leg being so tightly-contested was that they cancelled each other out in midfield. Suresh Wangjam had an especially impressive outing in his first ISL playoff tie, but everyone did their job well to frustrate one another. In Kolkata, something has got to give.
ATK have creative heads in Javi Hernandez and Garcia working around midfield, but they must be more creative to supply better balls to Williams and Krishna. Both sets of midfielders need to be quicker, more precise and hungry to take that extra step forward and outdo the other. A tightly-contested game should also ensue in Kolkata, but whichever side wins the midfield battle should prevail into the final.