The hosts must win to keep their playoffs hopes alive while the Blues also need the three points for their own reasons.
ATK gear up to welcome debutants Bengaluru FC at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Saturday in the Indian Super League (ISL). The defending champions have lost all of their previous three encounters, which includes two at home. With chances of maintaining their 100 percent record of making the playoffs looking bleak, nothing other than a win against the formidable Blues would help their cause.
The host’s interim head coach Ashley Westwood, while addressing the media during the pre-match press conference, mentioned that making the playoffs is still a possibility though extremely difficult. “It is mathematically possible,” he inferred. “If we win five games and draw one or win all six games, I am sure we will be very close. So, there is motivation. But, we have to be very professional. We have to keep playing and keep getting points. We have a duty towards the fans and the club. I am sure we will be firing all cylinders and looking to get all three points.”
The 41-year-old had previously coached Bengaluru FC in the I-League, and when asked of his opinions about facing his former club, he replied, “I have been around football long enough to play against former sides, as a player or a coach or a manager. So, for me, it’s just another game of football, one that we will try and look to win.”
ATK are at a lowly eighth in the league table, but Westwood shrugged off any questions regarding pressure. “I think football requires a little bit of pressure,” he remarked. “You need to win for your fans and for the team. So, I think there is pressure in every game. I don’t think there is any difference as regards to where you are in the league. Everybody wants to win a game of football.”
Having said that, he went on to acknowledge the threat their opponents of the night posed. “They are a good side,” he stated. “They are at the top for a reason. They have good foreign and Indian players who have scored a high number of goals. They also score a lot of goals from set-pieces and we have to be aware of that.”
The Englishman also highlighted the factors that had ATK faltering throughout the season. “There are many reasons; seven out of our first ten games were away and we had quite a few injuries,” he explained. “All the foreigners who had been in the side got injured. So, we really have never been a settled side where you can more or less pick the same team, week in and week out. When you look at the Bengaluru side, it has been very settled.”
Before concluding, he updated on star striker Robbie Keane’s injury. “Keane has been training,” Westwood informed. “He got some training done in the past few days and is starting to pick his load up. So, we will have to assess where he is with his fitness, but we would not like to make any wrong decisions. He is a key player of the squad. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Albert Roca, head coach of the league debutants, addressed the media prior to the clash at Kolkata. Referring to the unpredictability of outcomes in the league, the Spaniard said that he expected a tough competition from a struggling ATK side. “Only a few days ago we were in Delhi, and we lost the game,” he said. “But it’s good we got the three points in the next two games. So, there is nothing called an easy game. ATK still have some possibility to make the semifinals and I’m sure they will fight for the win to show that they can be there. So, we have to be alert. It would be a hard game.”
Bengaluru won the I-League in their debut season and have a strong chance of repeating a similar feat in the Hero ISL. Roca, however, pointed out that the two competitions were different, as was his team set-up post the pre-season draft. “The I-League and ISL are different competitions,” he inferred. “Maybe the ISL is tougher than the I-League, which we played last year. As you know, there was a draft where we lost some of our important players. But everybody had the intention to make a good team. I am happy with the squad I have now.”
He further added, “The squad is getting better and I would love them to be at the same level till the end of the season, so that we can achieve the first objective of being in the top-four. We just have to keep working as we are doing. Let’s see if we are able to win tomorrow and get closer to our objective.”
The 55-year-old then explained the importance of striking the right balance, something he believes his team is yet to find. “It is important to score goals, but it is also important to keep a balance,” Roca said. “A clean sheet is something a team always wants because it gets you closer to winning a game. But I have to find a right balance. We have not won three games in a row in the entire season, so it means that we have to push more and work. And the mentality also has to be high, as we are close to the end of the season.”
“But we have not found that balance,” he continued. “We have played some good games, but we have also played some very bad games. So, we have not been consistent and the team is working on that. Tomorrow’s game is a challenge for us to prove that we can win three games in a row.”
Before concluding, Bengaluru’s gaffer updated the media on the injury concerns in his team. “We have injuries,” he revealed. “Unfortunately, Braulio (Nobrega) had an injury a few days ago and is probably out of the competition. Then, Dimas (Delgado) is coming from an injury. Tomorrow, he will probably be on the bench. We are not sure about using him as he is an important player for us. We will decide tonight.”