Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) under the guidance of Antonio Lopez Habas adopted a strategy of caution rather than flair in the inaugral season of the Indian Super League. In fact, Habas has remained true to this philosophy even in the second season of the Indian Super League (ISL). Of course, the fact that ATK managed to win the inaugural season of ISL, with their philosophy, seems to have made easier for Habas to ask his team to sit back in their own half, and pounce on the counter attack, when they see the opportunity.
However, it is this pragmatic approach to the game, that seems to have frustrated the ATK plays and especially the fans, in Saturdaya s high-octane encounter at the Balewadi Stadium, Pune. Having already beaten the likes of last seasona s table toppers Chennaiyin FC, and runners-up Kerala Blasters FC, ATK looked to be in a rather strong position, as they faced FC Pune City, with a chance of extending their lead, at the top of the table.
Pune however, had other ideas, and went on to expose the ATK defence, which has attracted many praises, ever since the inaugural season of the tournament started, last year. Both Arnab Mondal and Josemi have been lauded for making the ATK goal almost impregnable, but against Pune, they both seemed rather shaky (at least in the opening minutes).
Aerial weakness of centre-backs exposed
The ATK defence has looked rather shaky this season, already shipping five goals from their first four matches. This, when compared to their defensive record on the 2014 season, when they conceded just 13 goals from 17 matches, looks quite unimpressive. That is exactly what Jackichand Singh capitalised on, and scored scorching left-footer, from a lose ball, as he was left completely unmarked on the edge of the penalty area.
This was not the only instance, when the ATK back-line looked vulnerable. In all their previous three matches, ATK had conceded goals that could probably have been avoided. All the five goals that ATK have conceded till now, have come from long aerial balls, or crosses sent in from the flanks. Indeed, ATKa s main defensive pair of Mondal and Josemi both have won a total of just five aerial duels, in this seasona s ISL.
That is not to say, however, that ATK, as a team is weak in the air. With the likes of forward Iain Hume and midfielder Borja Fernandes, ATK have players, who can dominate the air. This is why, they are yet to concede from an indirect free kick.
Lack Of Creativity In the Midfield
However, it is not just the defence, that has faltered for ATK, so far. The midfield, though being quite sound defensively, have been found wanting, with the ball at their feet. Of course, there has been the odd brilliance exhibited by the midfielders, namely from the likes of Arata Izumi and Javier Lara, but the play-makers have essentially failed to do what they are supposed to a create chances for the frontmen. ATKa s midfield trio of Arata, Borja, and Lara have managed to notch-up just one assist amongst themselves, in these four matches. This means that Hume, who has had to play alone, up front, in the absence of marquee striker Helder Postiga has been rather starved of opportunities, in front of goal.
Coach Habasa counter-attacking philosophy works just fine in a normal scenario, but the creative section of ATK seems to have been found wanting, when they are chasing a game. Against Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, and Kerala Blasters FC, ATK managed to score an early goal and then were happy to sit back and hit their opponents on the counter. However, their weakness was, for the first time, exposed against Pune, who managed to take the lead early on, leaving the ATK creative department completely clueless about what they needed to do. In fact, ATKa s midfield has become so used to having their opponents chase the game, that they could not even keep the ball for long periods of time, when they needed to show some urgency, and score the equalizer.
Helder Postiga’ s Absence
This seasona s ATK team has been set-up with the sole objective of having a hard-working centre forward (Hume) doing all the grunt-work, behind a central striker (Postiga), whoa s sole job is to score the goals. Helder Postigaa s injury in the very first match of the season has forced ATK to change their formation. The Portuguese striker is set to be out of action for at least a month, during which time, the Kolkata-based side would have to do without him.
Due to this, Habas has gone for Hume as the central striker, up front, with the likes of Lara and Arata playing as the creative midfielders behind him. The main problem with this however, is the fact that the ATK midfield have been sitting back and defending, while Hume hovers on around the half-way-line, trying to get hold-up the clearances that come his way. The Englishman has done this quite well, and has in fact, won twice the number of aerial duels (10), as that won by centre-backs Mondal and Josemi combined. He has also made 1.5 tackles per match, this season.
Despite his tremendous work rate, Hume has failed to score a goal this season and in Postiga’ s absence, the lack of goals could prove to be a worry for ATK as the season progesses. Hume has managed to get off only six shots from four matches, out of which, only three have been on target. Since ATKa s preparations ahead of the season have mainly centered around Hume working behind another striker, it seems that all his legwork has been leaving him too tired to pack much of a punch in the final shot. Perhaps going back to the original plan of playing twos forwards could work for ATK as was the case in the first match against Chennaiyin, when Hume linked-up well with Valdo, to set-up the Cape Verdean striker.
Coach Habas now has a few days to prepare his team for their next encounter against North East United FC, on Friday. With ATKa s weakness exposed, a change in tactic is perhaps the need of the hour for the Spanish coach.