The Kolkata side have coped admirably in marquee player Helder Postiga’s absence.
Champions of the first edition and semi-finalists last year in the Indian Super League Atletico De Kolkata have begun well in ISL 3. They are placed second in the league table having earned 9 points from 5 games and are the only side to remain unbeaten in the league so far.
ATK had shared points in their opening game against Chennaiyin FC at their new home venue Rabindra Sarobar Stadium following a 1-0 win over Kerala Blasters in Kochi courtesy a deflected goal from Javi Lara. The next two matches were all 1-1 stalemates against Mumbai City FC in Mumbai and FC Goa in Kolkata.
The Sourav Ganguly co-owned franchise had similar starts in the last two editions under Spaniard Antonio Lopez Habas who is now at the helm of FC Pune City. ATK are comfortably placed second with the last home game of their three consecutive matches to be played against Mumbai City FC on the 25th of October. What has made ATK so consistent this season? Let’s analyse a few factors:
Powers of Recovery:
This edition has witnessed ATK recovering in many games after losing the plot. In the opening game against Chennaiyin FC they were 1-2 down and turned it around to make it 2-2. In the game against Mumbai City FC they were down 0-1 in an away fixture and knuckled hard to make it 1-1. Against Delhi too ATK were down to ten men after Henrique Sereno was given his marching orders, but they did not lose focus as Canadian goal-machine Iain Hume converted from the spot to hand ATK their first home win of the season. The character displayed by the Kolkata side in trying situations will stand them in good stead in the long season ahead..
Good performance from Indian players
A glance at the last two editions of the ISL reveals that all the four teams who have been in the play-off positions in both seasons had quality Indian players in their ranks. Whether it be Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa or ATK and Kerala Blasters. FC Goa had in their ranks Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Rao Desai and Semboi Haokip in the attacking third. ATK had Kingshuk Debnath, Baljit Sahni and Denzil Franco with Sanju Pradhan and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury in their ranks followed by Arata Izumi, Augustin Fernandes, Rino Anto and Arnab Mondal with custodian Amrinder Singh who was terrific under the bar.
In this edition ATK have recruited a new bunch of Indian players with a focus on local talents, especially players who have played for local giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. The likes of Debjit Majumdar, Pritam Kotal, Bikramjit Singh, Prabir Das, Mondal, Lalrindika Ralte and Abhinas Ruidas have been integral to new boss Jose Molina’s success this season.
Foreigners making the difference:
With six foreigners being allowed to play in the starting XI it was quite obvious that they would have a big impact on the game. For ATK, Javi Lara was the saviour in the Kerala Blasters game earning them three points, while in the opening game it was the duo of Sameehg Doutie and Hume who gave ATK a point from the match. Further in the game against Mumbai City FC it was Lara who scored the equaliser which gave his team a crucial point in an away game. In the last game against Delhi Dynamos ATK were down to ten men, but looked the better side despite being a man light. They were solid at the back and always posed a threat on the counter-attack.
It is worth remembering that ATK are still missing the services of marquee Helder Postiga. They have had other injury concerns and suspensions too going into every match as Molina has been forced to change his XI in almost all the games till now. With all those issues ATK are still unbeaten in the league which is commendable. Apart from Postiga they have also missed midfielder Ofentse Nato as well as defender Pablo Gallardo who has been ruled out with a side strain for the remaining part of the season. Bikash Jairu has been ruled out of the rest of the campaign and Bikramjit Singh who is an integral part of the squad has also missed out on two away games.
The former Villarreal manager who has been a goalkeeper himself during his playing days filled in the shoes of Habas. The journey has still not been easy for Molina as he has been continuously compared with his predecessor who was very successful with ATK in the last two seasons. Questions were raised as to the low profile nature of the appointment. His first major challenge was to conduct the club’s pre-season in Madrid with a depleted squad as players from both Kolkata clubs were engaged with Calcutta Football League commitments. However, the Spaniard did not complain at all. During the beginning of the ISL the former Kitchee FC manager missed out on few key players along with marquee Postiga. But, he did not cry or complain as he fought with whatever resources he had and has maintained his team in the play-off spots without losing a match.
Although everything has gone well for ATK so far, they will be tested as the tournament progresses with some key players from Bengaluru FC yet to join their respective teams. The Kolkata side have plenty of attacking potential between them and whilst they have been efficient they need to score more goals as goal-difference could be a decisive factor in the race for the top four. To score goals ATK coach Molina has to depend on the duo of Postiga and Hume. Both these players are facing their respective issues. Postiga is out with injury and he has to return soon to lead the attack while Hume has been going through a goal drought from open play at least. Hume’s return to form will do a world of good for the Kolkata franchise. On the whole though the squad looks balanced and with the manager’s astute tactics the players look hungry to regain they title they won in the inaugural season. With the team yet to peak but still grinding out results, Bengal Tigers’ fans can look forward to lots of cheer in the months to come.
Photo © ISL Media
Report by Khel Now Correspondent Kushankur Rony Rakshit. Sports passionate and content writer. He is big football and cricket fan.