One can expect it to be a high scoring semi-final fixture between the two sides considering their attacking strengths.

In the second semi-final of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 season, Kolkata giants ATK Mohun Bagan faceoff against underdogs NorthEast United – who are dreaming big under Khalid Jamil. The Highlanders are playing some brave attacking football under their new coach and will aim to take the fight in the first leg against an ATKMB side which also boasts the best defensive record in the league.

This battle of wits will see a lot of back and forth, but everyone’s eyes will be peeled on the biggest superstars on the pitch. Both teams possess a lot of quality players – both domestic and foreign and there are a number of volatile match-winners in either side. However, a few particular battles on the pitch will eventually decide the result of this semi-final clash, as both teams have certain opposition players they need to keep quiet to gain the early advantage.

Here are the three key duels to keep a close eye in the first leg between NorthEast United and ATK Mohun Bagan.

3. Luis Machado Vs Pritam Kotal

WATCH: Luis Machado and Federico Gallego both got onto the scoresheet for NorthEast United in their previous win over ATK Mohun Bagan

The last time these two sides met, Luis Machado absolutely tormented ATKMB’s defence with his tricky presence in the final third. Coming into the playoffs with seven goals to his tally, Machado is a confident figure after having found his best form under Jamil. The Portuguese star will be given enough license to bomb forward in the swift breaks & take risks to create breakthroughs for his side. But he’ll be facing a sturdy Pritam Kotal, who performed really well in the league phase. Kotal will hope to regain his dependent personality to keep the Highlanders’ prime attacking threat.

The ATKMB defender has kept many volatile threats quiet this season, but needs to turn up big at the biggest occasions. Kotal will look to mark Machado out of the game and make crunching challenges to deter his confidence. But the NorthEast star isn’t one to give up easily, as he’ll hope to torment the ATKMB star with his pace & dribbling ability down the left. Machado will definitely have to be at the heart of everything good in NorthEast’s attack for them to get a big win. It remains to be seen how he influences attacking moves or gets into scoring areas with a stubborn defender like Kotal hounding him at all times.

2. Federico Gallego Vs Carl McHugh

Federico Gallego played a huge role over NorthEast United’s resurgence under Jamil, being their creator-in-chief in midfield and driving force in the attack. With four goals and six assists to his name, the Uruguayan is now one of the best performing foreign stars in the league and will play a huge role in the semi-finals. Gallego haunted the Mariners with a terrific goal the last time they met, but Carl McHugh will look to ensure that the same isn’t repeated this time around. The versatile midfielder has been a pivotal pillar in ATKMB’s defensive sturdiness this season and even topped the tackling charts in his team.

The tenacious midfielder will look to make things difficult for Gallego and ensure that he can’t work his magic around the game. Gallego has decent support around him under this NorthEast set-up, so he’ll be intent on getting past McHugh’s attention to create chances. With the Uruguayan being so important in creating chances & driving NorthEast United forward, the Irishman will have to come up with a special performance to neutralize his threat and cut supply in the Highlanders’ attack.

1. Benjamin Lambot vs Roy Krishna

WATCH: Roy Krishna scored a fantastic individual goal against SC East Bengal in the Kolkata Derby a few weeks ago

Roy Krishna might’ve failed to take ATKMB into the AFC Champions League, but he was still undoubtedly their best player and the best striker in the league phase of the ISL. After having blanked against Mumbai City, the Fijian will be hungry to get back to scoring ways against NorthEast. He scored in both games earlier this season against them, so Benjamin Lambot has a huge task ahead of himself for this one. He might’ve scored an unfortunate own-goal against them earlier this season, but the Belgian centre-back remains one of the Highlanders’ most reliable defenders.

The 33-year-old will aim to make good use of his experience to phase out Krishna from the game, marking him tightly and not allowing him an inch of space to threaten with. However, that’s easier said than done. Krishna will be ultra-motivated to perform well to help the Mariners take a step forward into the semi-finals. Having scored 14 goals this season, the Fijian will aim to keep increasing his tally and should have another feisty battle with a composed, mobile defender like Lambot.

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