The Mariners lost out on both the League Winners’ Shield and the ISL trophy last season.
In their two seasons in the Indian Super League, ATK Mohun Bagan have flattered to deceive. Under the pragmatic Antonio Habas in 2020/21, the side finished second in the league table and lost the final to Mumbai City FC. In 2021/22, they finished third and failed to make it to the finals, this time playing Juan Ferrando’s possession-based football.
The Green and Maroon brigade have put on a good show and yet lacked the final flourish in the business end of the tournament. After Antonio Habas resigned as manager following a poor string of results, ATKMB triggered the release clause in Juan Ferrando’s contract with FC Goa. This move saw the former FC Sheriff Head Coach shift bases to the Kolkata-based club till the end of the season.
As far as philosophies go, Juan Ferrando and Antonio Habas are on the opposite ends of the footballing spectrum. Transforming a side that played resolute counterattacking football to one which tries to control every tactical aspect of the game is no mean feat. However, given the talent and depth in the squad, Ferrando kept them in the hunt for the league till the very last game. This year, with a packed Salt Lake Stadium to blow wind in their sails, he will be looking to turn things around.
Here we analyze five things that Juan Ferrando needs to improve at ATK Mohun Bagan next season.
5. Work on his Indian Forwards
In Manvir Singh, Liston Colaco, and Kiyan Nassiri, ATKMB has an array of elite Indian attackers. Despite not making it to any national camps yet, the 21-year-old Kiyan has improved leaps and bounds in his time under Ferrando. His hat-trick in the prestigious Kolkata Derby speaks volumes about his ability.
However, Colaco and Manvir have often been wasteful with their chances despite scoring a combined total of 14 goals in the ISL. The duo top the list for big chances missed in 2021/22 (8 each). Although this isn’t something that a Coach can improve by himself, Ferrando will be expected to work on their composure in the attacking third.
ATKMB, as well as the Indian National Team, will benefit hugely from their exploits inside the box.
4. Sign a promising young Indian Midfielder
Juan Ferrando’s go-to options for the pivot in midfield are Lenny Rodrigues and Deepak Tangri. Lenny will turn 35 when the ISL season kicks off while Tangri is yet to adapt to Juan’s playing style. The man from Punjab excels at tackling and his no-nonsense style of defending. It is no surprise that he is a natural centre-back, a role he has played for the Indian U-23 side.
A young ball-playing midfielder to partner the seasoned Carl McHugh in the middle of the park will provide stability to the eleven. McHugh’s ball-snatching ability cries out for someone who has the distributive faculty to operate beside him.
The likes of Bidyananda Singh and Avishekh Suryavanshi have been getting some playing time in the AFC Cup. It remains to be seen how much Juan trusts them to perform consistently in the ISL.
3. Sign a left-back
Another department at the club that lacks depth. Ferrando has shown faith in Ashutosh Mehta to put in a shift in the position but an inverted fullback is not always sustainable. In case Subhasish Bose suffers a long-term injury, Bagan’s wide defensive areas may put the team in jeopardy.
Naorem Roshan Singh, Akash Mishra, and Hira Mondal have all burst onto the scene in recent years. Having a young specialist left-back will improve competition in the side and improve squad depth.
2. Replace foreigners who can leave the club in the summer
Roy Krishna, David Williams all have contracts that end before ISL 2022/23 kicks off. Both have been consistently crucial to ATKMB’s successes. It is extremely difficult to sign new players and get them to replicate what their predecessors have done for a good few seasons. After the CFG takeover, Mumbai City FC signed foreigners who had prior ISL experience and ended up lifting the double.
A season later, they replaced Hugo Boumous and Bart Ogbeche with Cassio Gabriel and Ygor Catatau. While the two have shined on occasions, they failed to reproduce a similar impact. The Islanders finished fifth in the league, outside the playoff spots.
Krishna and Williams will be cherished as one of the most memorable partnerships in ISL history. The duo won the ISL with ATK in 2019/20 and reached a consecutive final a year later with ATKMB. If they were to leave, it will be a mammoth task for Juan and the management to sign desirable replacements.
1. Organize a long pre-season with friendlies/tournament
Juan Ferrando has stressed multiple times in press conferences how pre-seasons are vital for tactical training sessions and physical conditioning. The likes of Sandesh Jhingan, Deepak Tangri or Manvir Singh who aren’t naturally suited for possession-based football will get time to understand the nitty-gritty of what the manager demands from them. A preseason tournament like the Durand Cup or the CFL will also allow youngsters to blossom and gain confidence.
The Mariners may also play a few friendlies before the ISL, something that Habas didn’t fancy. New foreigners (if any) will get time to gel with the players and get accustomed to the climate in India.
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