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ISL 2020-21: ATK Mohun Bagan show they aren’t a one trick pony

Published at :February 4, 2021 at 8:25 PM
Modified at :February 10, 2021 at 5:24 AM
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Tarkesh Jha

The Mariners' completed a splendid comeback win over Kerala Blasters to stay in the race to finish atop the table.

The 16th gameweek of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 season concluded with the match between SC East Bengal and Bengaluru FC on Tuesday. With that, almost three-fourths of the league stage is done. Yet, there is tough competition for at least two of the four playoffs spots. Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan will make it to the semi-finals in all probability. However, the likes of Hyderabad FC, FC Goa, NorthEast United, Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC are equally in the fray to qualify.

Accordingly, ATKMB and the Islanders will compete staunchly for the first position and the coveted AFC Champions League qualification that comes with it. Mumbai slipped a bit in that pursuit this week, as they came up against a persistent NEUFC. Let us explore on that and more in this gameweek’s takeaways:

5. Gerard Nus deserves credit for NorthEast's upturn in form
WATCH: ISL 2020-21: FT: Mumbai City FC 1-2 NorthEast United

NorthEast United registered twin victories against Mumbai City as they defeated the table-toppers 2-1 on Saturday. The Highlanders set the tone from the offset with Deshorn Brown bagging a brace within nine minutes. Mumbai kept knocking the door, but NorthEast’s resilient defensive structure meant that they prevented the opposition from making their way into the game.

Khalid Jamil is deservedly getting the credit for sparking the Highlanders’ turnaround and having won three out of three games since taking over the coaching responsibility from Gerard Nus. The Spaniard parted ways following a 1-1 draw against Bengaluru FC. The team had played several draws, but were still in the fray for ISL 2020-21 playoffs berth.

Nus, a young tactician, had worked with the team right from pre-season onward and naturally set the foundations of this setup. The side have perhaps adopted a more expansive approach under Jamil’s tutelage. But, their standout quality in the victory against Mumbai was the team’s incredible tenacity, doggedness and a laudable fighting spirit; skills that Nus seemed to have instilled in them in abundance.

4. Hyderabad FC: Laying foundation for bright future

Hyderabad FC scaled up to the third spot in the standings with a convincing 2-0 victory against Chennaiyin FC. Prolific forward Fran Sandaza opened the scoring, whereas Joel Chianese doubled the lead to secure the three points for his team. Manolo Marquez has truly surprised observers with the seamlessly wonderful brand of football that he designed his team to play.

They have the perfect blend of youthful exuberance, seasoned leaders and primed foreign stars. The likes of Akash Mishra and Liston Colaco have already grabbed headlines with their impressive outings. Sandaza’s entry has added another quality goalscoring element to their lineup. On the other hand, Chianese easily has a few years of top-drawer football up his sleeves. With a squad having quality as diverse as this, the team is set to be well-placed in the longer run.

3. ATK Mohun Bagan show that they aren’t a one trick pony
WATCH: ISL 2020-21: FT: ATK Mohun Bagan 3-2 Kerala Blasters

ATK Mohun Bagan have often maintained a robust backline, ensured clean-sheets, scored a solitary goal and notched three points from games. Antonio Lopez Habas’ approach and tactics might appear a bit pragmatic. However, this perspective has led him to become one of the most successful coaches in the league. Nevertheless, many believed that the Kolkata-based club have fallen prey to being a one-trick pony.

Hence, there were few expectations from them to stage a comeback once Kerala Blasters scored the first two goals on Sunday. However, Habas’ men netted thrice in around 30 minutes to claim a victory from the contest. Marcelinho drew first blood in the 59th minute, whereas Roy Krishna bagged a brace thereafter to show that ATK Mohun Bagan know multiple ways to win a game. It is a trait that will come to the fore as we enter the final stages of the season.

2. Stuart Baxter’s unceremonious sacking highlights another season of woe for Odisha

Stuart Baxter had several reasons to worry in the ongoing season of the ISL. His team collected a solitary victory in 14 matches and looked insipid on all fronts. But, perhaps nothing irked the club’s think-tank more than the British coach’s outburst post their 0-1 loss against Jamshedpur FC. Being critical of the refereeing decisions, Baxter quoted, “I have to say, you need decisions to go your way and I don’t know what we have to do get a penalty. One of my players would have to r*** or get r***** in the box to get a penalty.”

This moment of madness triggered his immediate dismissal from the club and added another blot to Odisha’s crippling campaign. The Juggernauts had roped in multiple exciting youngsters in the summer and that instilled immense optimism regarding the team ahead of the season. However, all that talent failed to deliver the required results. The club looked adamant to stick with Baxter and support him to build on this project.

However, it appeared that a testing season gradually took a toll on the former head coach. Meanwhile, assistant coach Gerard Peyton has taken over the role of interim head coach for the time being. The team will be desperately looking for a turnaround after the recent developments. Often, it has been witnessed that a change of personnel at the helm of affairs stimulates a sudden upturn in form. Will Odisha follow the same path for the next six games?

1. Can the Blues mount a late playoffs challenge?
WATCH: ISL 2020-21: FT: SC East Bengal 0-2 Bengaluru FC

Bengaluru FC collected their first win in almost a month and a half as they defeated SC East Bengal 2-0 on Tuesday. Cleiton Silva’s strike coupled with Debjit Majumder’s own-goal allowed the Blues to secure their first victory under interim coach Naushad Moosa. In Moosa’s own words, the team was setup to maintain a compact structure and be efficient on the goalscoring front.

The JSW Steel-owned club have 21 points to their name in 15 games and are only three points behind fourth-placed FC Goa. However, the Gaurs have played a game less and have a better goal difference (+5) as compared to Bengaluru (0). Upsets and surprises aren’t the most likely circumstances at the fag end of a season. The Blues looked to have implemented their gameplan clearly and are over time showing signs of adapting to Moosa’s style of play.

They can very well manage to keep knocking on the playoffs’ door, if they remain unbeaten for the next five games. However, it is equally important to notch some crucial victories along the way. However, Bengaluru are slated to face FC Goa, Mumbai City and ATKMB in three of their remaining fixtures. A laudable outing against these sides will keep them in contention to make it to the top four. Does Naushad Moosa have it in him to realize Bengaluru FC’s ambitions amidst a troubled season? Only time will tell.