Having just three wins in 10 matches this season, the two-time champions really need a change in fortunes to reach the playoffs.
Defending champions ATK will gear up to host Chennaiyin FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 on Thursday at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata. On Wednesday, the hosts announced the appointment of Technical Director Ashley Westwood as the interim head coach after they parted ways with Teddy Sheringham.
ATK interim coach Ashley Westwood is confident that his team can still defend their title in the Hero Indian Super League.ATK are the most successful team in the Hero ISL winning the trophy twice in three years. This year, the defending champions have stuttered and are placed eighth with 12 points from 10 matches. The lacklustre showing led to the mutual parting of ways between ATK and chief coach Teddy Sheringham but Westwood believes their season is far from over.
The challenge for ATK would be to improve on their victories this season; they have won just three of their 10 matches and Westwood will have his task cut out against Chennaiyin FC at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata, on Thursday.
“We don’t have lot of time to instil massive difference. Hope we can inject a little bit of freshness, new faces can change things a bit,” said Westwood.
Westwood needs no introduction and remains a popular figure in Indian football due to his successful three-year stint with Bengaluru FC. Taking charge of an ISL team, although temporarily, is a new experience for him but he is ready for the challenge.
“Temporarily, I am in charge. I’ve been a head coach before, coached for four years; three years full time in India, so I don’t see any difficulty. I am confident in what I do and confident in the team. This is part and parcel of football. It’s not difficult at all,” said Westwood, who confirmed that star striker Robbie Keane is unavailable for this match due to injury.
It will be baptism by fire for Westwood in the ISL as ATK face Chennaiyin FC, who are placed second with 20 points from 11 matches and have already won more than double the matches what ATK did.
Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory returns to take charge of the team after serving a three-match ban. The visitors lost their last match against NorthEast United FC and Gregory is hoping that there is no revival at ATK with Ashley taking charge.
“Sometimes these kind of things happen. New guy comes in and suddenly everything changes. We saw what happened at NorthEast couple of weeks ago. My good friend Avram Grant came in and they got an amazing victory against FC Goa. Sometimes it works and sometimes doesn’t. I just have to make sure it doesn’t work (for ATK),” said Gregory.
Gregory was full of praise for ATK’s achievements since the start of the season and was looking forward to the huge clash.
“To me and all my players, we look at ATK like the Manchester United of India. It’s a huge club. Obviously, they have been champions twice. We have been champions once (but) we still look up to ATK. 25 players want to play tomorrow night because it’s ATK. They are fired up. At the start of season when the fixtures come out, the first thing I did was ‘when do we play ATK’. That’s what they do in England; ‘when do we play Manchester United’,” said the Chennaiyin FC coach.
When the teams met in the first leg at home, Chennaiyin FC won 3-2 in a match that has been described by the former England midfielder and Premier League manager as “one of the most exciting game of my complete career.
ATK 3:2 Chennaiyin FC (4 draws)
Jayesh Rane (ATK)
After missing the start of the season due to injury, the 24-year-old’s addition to the squad has given the defending champions some flair upfront. He has good speed and an eye for feeding the ball to strikers up front. His tally of 123 passes and 144 touches in just five games is a shining example of the talent Rane possesses. He is yet to reach optimum form this season, but if he hits his sweet spot, he will be quite a handful for Chennai to contain on Thursday.
Anirudh Thapa (Chennaiyin FC)
Chennai’s 20-year-old sensation has grabbed eyeballs this season and has already played eight matches for the 2015 champions. Having replaced Bikramjit Singh in the starting line-up at the last moment in their previous match, Thapa scored the lone goal for his team with a stunning volley which gave the opposition keeper no chance. With 231 passes and 265 touches already under his sleeve this season, Thapa is the surprise package whom ATK need to be wary of.
POTENTIAL STARTING LINEUPS
Ashley Westwood would probably field his team in the 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing enough back-up in defence to contain Chennai’s attack and also, to add intent upfront.
Goalkeeper: Debjit Majumder
Defenders: Keegan Pereira, Jordi Montel, Tom Thorpe, Prabir Das
Midfielders: Zequinha, Ryan Taylor, Conor Thomas, Rupert Nongrum, Jayesh Rane
Forward: Robin Singh
Ashley Westwood, ATK’s interim head coach, on his team and their opponents: “With regards to motivation, they’re professional players and we play in a fantastic stadium with great fans. Chennai are obviously second in the league. They score a lot of goals, are very strong, have three foreigners in their back four, are a huge threat from set-pieces and have some great Indian players. We know Jeje’s capabilities in scoring goals. It will be a good challenge. I’m sure the players will respond.”
John Gregory may go forward with the same 4-2-3-1 formation, which has yielded rich dividends in the past for his team.
Goalkeeper: Karanjit Singh
Defenders: Inigo Calderon, Mailson Alves, Henrique Sereno, Jerry Lalrinzuala
Midfielders: Dhanpal Ganesh, Anirudh Thapa, Thoi Singh, Rene Mihelic, Gregory Nelson
Forward: Jeje Lalpekhlua
The visiting head coach on their opponents of the night: “I regard ATK as the Manchester United of India. They’ve been champions twice. We look up to them. All my players are fired up because it’s ATK. They want to play in this beautiful stadium. At the start of the season, when the fixtures came out, the first thing I did was to look up when we’d play ATK. Our home game (against ATK) was an amazing match. That was one of the best games of my career.”