Both the tacticians had very different views of the performance of their respective sides in the league opener.
ATK fell to their first loss to Kerala Blasters in over four years when they were defeated in the opening match of the new Indian Super League (ISL) 0-2 at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday. Two second half goals from Matej Poplatnik and Slaven Stojanovic sunk the disappointing Kolkata team, who started their season on the wrong foot.
Coach Steve Coppell spoke about the defeat sayong, “The main takeaway is that when you are playing in such hostile conditions, you can’t give away the ball so cheaply. We gave away possession too cheaply in the second half.”
Watch: ATK 0-2 Kerala Blasters highlights
When quizzed on whether Kerala were defensively better he said, “Yes, they were defensively superior and better than us on the day. Defensively, I didn’t think we penetrated their defence that well to test them. The set-pieces weren’t successful at all either.”
ATK missed the lethal touch of new striker Kalu Uche from the start. When asked why Uche did not start Coppell explained, “Kalu Uche only arrived earlier today. He had been travelling all night. I didn’t want to use him, but thought we needed him to influence things later on. That’s why I brought him and Eugene later on to get things happening going forward, but unfortunately, neither of those things happened.”
Balwant Singh was again played in a winger’s role, this time on the right. “I don’t know whether his position change made any difference. But, I loved Everton’s game. He is the only forward in the team with real pace. I thought pace would cause problems to their central defence. I fully appreciate Balwant as a centre-forward, but he’s played in wide areas. I wanted to play him wide to test his ability in attacking areas. But, we never really threatened them as consistently as I would’ve liked,” Coppell admitted.
Manuel Lanzarote seemingly played in a deeper role than he did for FC Goa last season. Coppell was questioned about that and explained, “That’s our goal. Our job is to give the ball to Lanza as much as possible. But, in the first half, they were controlling possession in midfield and that’s why he had to go deep to get the ball. We want to get him as high up as possible.”
When questioned on his defensive tactics Coppell gave a powerful response saying, “I had no intentions whatsoever to play defensive football. I brought in Kalu to win the game and that was an attacking substitution.”
“I’m branded in India as being defensive, but it’s never my intention to be that. You look into my career in England and for me, it’s always been that the best form of defence is attack. But to attack, you’ve got to have the ball and need to test the opponent’s defence,” the ATK head coach asserted.
David James seemed a content figure after the game. But he stressed on wanting better from his team. “Both Lalruatthara and Rakip were impressive, but I was mostly impressed with the discipline and the commitment of the players. I thought we were a better team, although they (ATK) had a couple of great chances to score,” he said.
CK Vineeth produced a good performance after coming on and James praised his efforts. “The team in the first half was frustrating,” he quipped before adding, “But, Vineeth’s work after coming on was very important. He brought a lot positivity into the team and had a positive contribution to our attack.”
The Englishman was asked about whether he was surprised by ATK’s lacklustre performance on the day and said, “Because of the number of players they got in, it was very difficult for them to play one from the getgo.”
“We were prepared to see Uche on the bench because we prepared hard to stop him. We proved that Kerala Blasters don’t play a slow game of football and I think our energy and pace was decisive in today’s win,” he revealed.
The Kerala tactician was questioned on his decision to play four foreigners on the day and said, “My selection is based on who I think is training well and is ready to play. So, it’s not necessary for us to play five foreigners during every game. We were comfortable with four foreigners,” he concluded.