Both Chennaiyin FC and Atletico de Kolkata are two of the strongest teams in the Indian Super League (ISL) and it is perhaps a sad affair, that we would not be able to see them playing the final.
However, as fate happens, only one of them can make it to the season-ending game at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa, but that before that, we would have the pleasure of seeing them battle it out against each other in two grueling semi finals.
There is of course another back-story to this battle. Both the strikers of these two teams — Stiven Mendoza and Iain Hume are vying for the golden boot award, and would like nothing better than to get the better of the other. Mendoza is currently leading that chart with 11 goals, but Hume is not far behind with 10 to his name.
Another aspect is that both Chennaiyin FC and Atletico de Kolkata have had to go through difficult spells during the season, and have shown great character to bounce back, and claim their respective semi final spots.
Also, Chennaiyin FC would have double motivation from the fact that their home town has been ravaged by heavy rainfalls, which has resulted in large scale flooding of the city. The venue for the game had to be shifted because of this, but a victory for the Super Machans would surely be seen as a shining light for the city of Chennai.
So ahead of this heavyweight tie, let’s take a look at the key battles on the pitch, that we can expect from the match at the Belawadi Stadium in Pune.
Stiven Mendoza (forward, Chennaiyin FC) vs Arnab Mondal (defender, ATK)
Mendoza has been terrorising defences in the league this season, and India international Arnab Mondal would be aware of that fact, when he squares off against the Colombian. Unlike his his fellow Chennaiyin FC striker Fikru, Mendoza is not the average big and strong centre forward, who holds the ball up for the rest of the team to move forward with him.
Instead, the Colombian makes darting runs at the defence, from all sorts of positions. This makes it very difficult to mark him. Being quick player, who is also very technical, Mendoza often swaps with places with the wingers. However, he is at his best, when he runs at defenders. Another important aspect of his game is that he also makes the darting runs against the run of play, to latch on the a long or short through ball, which is why he has been able to get so many chances to score this season.
Mondal has been one of the best defenders in India for over a year now, but he needs to bring his A-game to the pitch, if he is to stop the Colombian from scoring a goal. Just being big and strong in defence would definately not be the mantra in this match, as Arnab needs to coordinate with his defensive partner Tiri, to keep Mendoza out. Playing the offside trap could be an effective ploy, but can backfire badly, if the whole defence is not in tune with each other, as Mendoza is quite quick.
With his no nonsense attitude, and his hard-tackling technique, Mondal has been a rock at the back of the ATK defence since the start of last season. Also being a Kolkata-boy himself, he knows perfectly well, how the people of the city are crazy about the game, and how much it would mean to them, if ATK can win the trophy for the second season in a row.
Bernard Mendy (defender, Chennaiyin FC) vs Sameehg Doutie (winger, ATK)
Sameehg Doutie has mesmerised one and all with his skills out wide, for ATK. In fact, the Kolkata side have had a bit of a resurgence ever since they brough the South African winger into their team.
Doutie has been instrumental in ATK’s resurgence, sending them from the lowly seventh spot to the eventual second spot in the ISL table, which meant semi final qualification for the second season in a row, for the Kolkata side.
The South African is one of the most creative players on the pitch, but is most effective out wide, where he can run at singled-out defenders, and beat them with his trickery and pace. Although he is a little bit of a two-footed player, his main strength lies on his left foot.
This is why, he prefers the right flank, from where he can cut in and take shots on goal. However he also has the weapon of a good cross, and would be looking to find AKT star man Iain Hume with his array of aerial and ground crosses. Hume’s performance has been greatly affected by the presence of Doutie in the side, as the floodgates have opened for him, allowing the Scottish-Canadian to score freely up front.
However, Doutie does not stay at one position, and is expected to switch flanks quite often with Arata Izumi. This is when we can get to see a tough battle between him and Bernard Mendy, of Chennaiyin.
Mendy has been instrumental in defence for Cehnnaiyin FC in both the seasons of the ISL, and is an absolute beast at the back, for Marco Materazzi’s team. However, he is expected to play right back in the first leg, as regular fullback Mehrajuddin Wadoo is suspended.
This would give us the opportunity to see the interesting battle between Sameehg Doutie and Bernard Mendy. The burly Frenchman is not shy of going into a tackle or two, and also possesses tremendous pace, with which to catch the likes of Doutie.
Mendy has played right back for the French national side, and this video clip of him leaving Delhi Dynamos FC coach Roberto Carlos behind, to show the Brazilian legend a clean pair of heels is testament to the fact that the Frenchman can hurt ATK from the flanks.
Thus, Doutie’s duty won’t just stop at creating chances for ATK. Whenever he is on the left flank, he would also have to help out his teammate Augustine Fernandes in defence.
Alessandro Potenza (defender, Chennaiyin FC) vs Iain Hume (forward, ATK)
Atletico de Kolkata had signed Iain Hume with the objective of playing him behind Portuguese star man Helder Postiga, in a lethal partnership. However, as Postiga suffered an injury on the opening match on the 2015 ISL season (which was also against Chennain FC), Hume has more or less had to play the lone striker role.
He struggled at first, but soon learnt the virtue of not running all over the pitch, and started getting into the goalscoring areas. This has helped him and ATK launching the Red and Whites into the semi finals, while Hume is now in contention for the golden boot award with 10 goals, just one behind current top scorer Mendoza.
Much like Mendoza, Hume would be looking to make the darting runs in between the Chennaiyin Fc defence, and score the crucial goals for his side.
However, one extra aspect that Hume has to his style of play, is that he can also help his team out in defence in more than one way. Of course he has shown that he is a tireless machine, who can run all over the pitch, even in the 95th minute, and help out in defence.
However, when his team is defending, Hume can also hold up the ball really well, allowing the likes of Doutie, Izumi and Gavilan time to move forward to his aid, and then launch swift counter attacks.
This is where the likes of Potenza comes in. Being a defender form the Inter Milan academy, Potenza knows more than a thing or two about defending the ‘Italian way’, and would be looking to snatch the ball from Hume, while the Canadian tries to hold it up.
Nipping the ATK attacks in the bud is one of the best ways of keeping the Kolkata side out, and Chennaiyin FC manager Marco Materazzi would probably have more that 50 per cent of his drawing board on how to stop Hume from executing his hold-up play.
However Potenza also has to coordinate with defensive partner Mailson Alves, to check the darting runs made by both Hume, and the two wingers Izumi and Doutie, while holding midfielder would be trying to give the defence some extra cover by cutting out the through balls by Gavilan and Borja.
Image Source: ISL Media Team