Atletico de Kolkata
D.Y Patil Stadium, Mumbai
20th December 2014, 19:00 IST
Who is going to be the first champion of the Hero Indian Super League?, is perhaps a question which has revolved around the country, over the past three months.After a season full of elation, excitement and probably boom-blasting football onto a national level, the Hero Indian Super League will witness it’s first final on 20th December 2014, in Mumbai’s D.Y Patil Stadium.
Given the topsy turvy start Kerala Blasters had, in their early days, many might not have predicted Sachin Tendulkar’s co-owned franchisee to make their way into the finals. Kerala Blasters have cherished life in the Super League and under manager David James. Although the team will miss some it’s key players in this penultimate encounter against Atletico de Kolkata, the Blasters would look to draw inspiration from their recent endeavors. After defeating Chennaiyin FC 3-0 at home, in the first leg of the semi-finals, Kerala Blasters more than assured their way into the Super League finals, but were given a shock when they clashed sword against Chennaiyin FC, away, in the second leg of the semi-finals. Witnessing arguably the most exciting match in the Super League, from a neutral’s point of view, the Blasters held on to dear life as Chennaiyin FC posed a late comeback and equalized the 3-0 deficit. A Stephen Pearson goal in added extra time, gave Blasters safe passage into the Super League finals and with that, the Sachin Tendulkar franchisee became the first ever finalists of the Indian Super League.
A sinusoidal wave, full of crests and troughs is perhaps an apt representation of Atletico de Kolkata’s Super League season. The Sourav Ganguly franchisee started with guns blazing and looked in formidable form. An undefeated streak of six matches, in their early days, more than insured Kolkata’s pedigree as one of the heavyweights and contenders for the Super League title. After the suspension of Fikru and coach Antonio Habas, the team suffered a dip in form and lost against FC Pune City. Performances since then, have been quiet uncanny. With all the resources, that the Sourav Ganguly c0-owned franchisee accommodates, it should dominate proceeding and hammer teams. Surprisingly , it hasn’t. Atletico de Kolkata have relied on counter attacks in the business end of their Super League campaign, which was pretty much evident when they rammed heads against FC Goa, in their semi-final bout. Moreover, rumors involving a scuffle between coach Antonio Habas and sensational striker Fikru, have surface and this severed tie could prove hefty for Atletico de Kolkata.
Team News and Tactical Brief:
The Blasters have enjoyed the latter stages of the Super League and their impressive form in making it to the semi-finals, is an evidence of that. David James, has taken a back seat to goalkeeping proceeding and allowed Indian veteran Sandip Nandy, to cover ground for him. This move by the former Liverpool shotstopper has worked wonders. While Nandy, has tested positive for impressive performances, James has dictated terms off the pitch, which also gives him a vantage point over things, happening on-field. However, with Sandip Nandy, limping off against Chennaiyin FC, Luis Barreto or David James, himself could start in goal. The tenure of Nandy’s injury is not certain,however, the Indian veteran still has a chance of recovery and is expected to fill in his favored position.
The defensive side of things, could prove hefty for Kerala Blasters. With McAllister and Gurwinder Singh suspended, Sandesh Jhinghan, who had a terrible game to forget against Chennaiyin FC, is expected to be deployed in the left back domain. This move will allow James to field Nirmal Chhetri as the right back and Colin Falvey alongside Cedric Hengbart, in the heart of defense. The Blasters have suffered against long balls and set pieces and this could prove a major worry, when they take on Atletico de Kolkata.
The relentless pressing of Iain Hume has rocketed Kerala’s style of play, which focuses on pressing higher up the pitch. Iain Hume and Micheal Chopra, displayed signs of bonding against Chennaiyin FC and although it might be an experimental attack force, given the impressive performances of Milagres Gonsalves, Chopra’s ability to be a game changer could see him edge Milagres in the pecking order. Midfield has perhaps been Kerala’s best and safest bet. While Mehtab Hossain drops deep and links play, Stephen Pearson poses a threat on the left flank with his tireless running and ability to read the game. The Scottish International, has been in the thick of Kerala’s core and would look to influence the finals.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-1-3-2): Sandip Nandy, Nirmal Chhetri, Colin Falvey, Cedric Hengbart, Sandesh Jhinghan, Mehtab Hossain, Forcada, Ishfaq Ahmed, Stephen Pearson, Iain Hume, Micheal Chopra
Atletico de Kolkata
Unlike their semi-final bout against FC Goa, wherein they played with men committed behind the ball and their 3-5-2 which reverted to a 5-3-2, was an evidence of that, Atletico de Kolkata are expected to play their own style of football in the finals of the Indian Super League.
Given the recent problems between Antonio Habas and Fikru, Atletico de Kolkata could perhaps, once again, field Mohammed Rafi, in the Ethiopian’s position. Now the deployment of Rafi has worked as a backlash to Atletico’s fluent attack. Rafi did not strike a chord with the three midfielder deployed behind him, when FC Goa entertained Atletico, and Luis Garcia often looked lost – as to where to slide the ball for the Indian striker. Still, with Fikru’s antics and theatrics off-field, the Ethiopian could be excluded from Atletico’s starting lineup. However, Fikru might be called on to rescue Atletico’s boat, if they are in trouble, later in the match.
Atletico de Kolkata’s defenseive pairing of Josemi and Arnab Mondal, is arguably the best defensive setup in the Indian Super League. The pairing have displayed signs of pure cohesiveness and have often navigated the team, out of harm’s way. With Kingshuk and Lester deployed in the wingback positions, Atletico de Kolkata would look to carry an attacking stance in the finals, and allow the Indian wingbacks to bombard forward, when possible.
With Nato and Borja governing play in the midfield, Atletico de Kolkata would look to dominate possession and create better goal scoring opportunities, given the attacking trio of Luis Garcia, Jofre and Pody.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Subasish Roy, Kingshuk, Josemi, Arnab Mondal , Lester, Oftense Nato, Borja, Jofre, Luis Garcia, Pody, Mohammad Rafi
Players To Watch Out For:
Iain Hume ( Kerala Blasters )
A standout performer for Kerala Blasters, Iain Hume is probably as relentless as strikers come. The Canadian has comprised the core of Kerala’s attack for the better half of their Super League campaign. Hume’s tireless running ability fused with his eye for a pass and clinical finishing, could prove to be Kerala’s game changer.
Luis Garcia ( Atletico de Kolkata )
Although Luis Garcia, has not been as prolific as Chennaiyin’s FC marquee player Elano, the former Liverpool midfielder has certainly driven Atletico’s boat in their recent matches. Garcia, often dictates Atletico’s play and powers the forwards, present ahead of him. His ability to draw defenders out of space, could be capitalized by Atletico de Kolkata.
Kerala Blasters 1 – Atletico de Kolkata 1 ( Match to be decided on penalties )
Who dosent love a romantic ending? With both teams familiar with each others style of play, Kerala Blasters and Atletico de Kolkata are set to be level on terms, come the end of 120 minutes. Kerala Blasters are expected to take the lead against Atletico de Kolkata, and the tie is expected to be even in possession, with neither team dominating play.