ISL IX: ATK Mohun Bagan bank on defence in title hunt
ATK Mohun Bagan take on Bengaluru FC in the battle for the ISL IX crown at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa’s Fatorda on Saturday.
A win for Bagan can hand them their maiden ISL title, while Bengaluru FC could lift their second, having triumphed in the 2018-19 season. Atletico Kolkata (ATK), before the merger with Bagan, had won the crown thrice.
Bagan have been unbeaten in five games leading up to the final, conceding only once. Their defensive prowess has been evident since the league phase, where Bagan conceded just 17 goals all season, making them statistically the second-best team after Hyderabad FC.
A solid backline with Pritam Kotal and Brendan Hamill enabled the Mariners to achieve this feat. However, in the last four games, Slavko Damjanovic had replaced Hamill at the heart of defence and Bagan kept clean sheets in all those games.
In attack, the only player that head coach Juan Ferrando could be without is Ashique Kuruniyan, but the Spaniard is positive about his chances. Kuruniyan will be assessed in training before the final against his former club.
“In the last few games, they (Bengaluru FC) have been very good and have played confidently. On the field, they look like a proper team. It will be very important to control this game from the start. The focus, as always, is on our team, and we have faith in our plan,” said Ferrando.
Despite beating League Shield winners Mumbai City FC on penalties in the semi-final, Bengaluru FC suffered their first regulation-time defeat of the year in the second leg. The Blues were on a 10-game winning run before Mumbai City restored parity and eventually lost on penalties.
Head coach Simon Grayson has used Sunil Chhetri as an impact substitute and, in the last five games, the 38-year-old Indian skipper has come on to score vital goals on three occasions.
Grayson will likely field an unchanged XI in the final with Chhetri on the bench, while Roy Krishna and talented Sivasakthi Narayanan could start.
“Leaving out someone of his quality, experience and professionalism is a really tough decision. But as a coach, regardless if it’s Sunil Chhetri or Rohit Kumar, I have to make what I think is the right decision,” said Grayson.
“(ATKMB) are defensively very solid, they have some good defenders, and good competition for places. We will respect the opposition but I’m sure they’ll know that we have some decent players in our team.
“Hopefully, when we’re talking after the game, it will have been a great advert for the ISL and Indian football,” he added.
ISL final clash
ATK Mohun Bagan vs Bengaluru FC (7.30pm, Live on Star Sports 1 HD)