After Jamshedpur FC finished fifth in their maiden ISL campaign last season, Steve Coppell was quickly snapped up by two-time winners ATK, who failed to even make the playoffs last year. Following that, the ATK management decided to bring in as many as 18 players for the upcoming season.
The winner of the title in the first and third season encountered a horrendous season in the last one where they finished ninth with just four wins in 18 matches. The club, which had started the season with Teddy Sheringham as the coach, ended up using three different coaches by the end with marquee player Robbie Keane being the last one. ATK had to solve things fast and they have brought in former Mohun Bagan AC coach Sanjoy Sen as their mentor to recruit players.
ATK has roped in goalkeepers Arindam Bhattacharya and Avilash Paul from Mumbai City FC and Aizawl FC respectively. After having a horrible 2015-16 season with FC Pune City, Arindam’s impressive display with Sporting Goa had led to Bengaluru FC buying him. However, in both Bengaluru and then Mumbai, he has played the second fiddle and we expect him to be the same in ATK as well. The Kolkata-based franchise would, however, go with veteran goalie Debjit Majumder this season as the first choice, having been a part of a successful league campaign two years ago.
Someone as pragmatic as Coppell would want to keep his defensive options filled and ATK’s new signings unsurprisingly have some of the proven defenders in Gerson Viera, who has played in South American leagues, Andre Bikey, who has played in Premier League and the Championship, old war dog Arnab Mondal, who has previously won the title with ATK, Sena Ralte, who has played for Delhi Dynamos and Mumbai City FC, former Bengaluru FC star John Johnson, the experienced Aiborlang Khongjee from Mumbai City, and Ricky Lallawmawma from Mohun Bagan – who is another one of Sanjoy Sen’s recruitment.
With eight to nine defenders in the side having an average age of 28.9, Coppell’s intentions are clear. ATK look ready for all kinds of offences, whether it be Kerala Blasters' direct drill or FC Goa’s passing maze. The defence also has both kinds of players, ones who are in their prime and the ones with a plethora of experience. Playing on the counter, as Coppell prefers, would start right from the back and the heavy reinforcement is a sign of it.
Though ATK’s biggest signing for the upcoming season has been the 34-year-old Manuel Lanzarote, the team’s other midfielders are relatively young. Pronay Halder has come in from Goa and could be a good catch in the central midfield alongside the exciting Eugeneson Lyngdoh. The spine is further bolstered by Moroccan midfielder Noussair El Mimouni, one of the I-league prodigies Sheikh Faiaz, and former Bengaluru FC youngster Malsawmzuala.
Lanzarote, however, isn’t the only speedster on the flanks with the established likes of Hitesh Sharma, Komal Thatal already there, and the young Lalmuankima Haunhar joining from Aizwal. Coppell had mostly gone with a 4-2-3-1 setup last season, which could get the most out of this squad having the perfect blend of pace and physicality. While the likes of Halder and Lyngdoh can play the hold-up role in central midfield, Noussair could give the added height and strength from time to time.
The attack would perhaps see the most number of changes after defence from last season. Sheringham’s ideal setup with towering forwards winning battles and remaining a supreme threat from set-pieces no more characterizes the new ATK attack. In the likes of Kalu Uche, Everton Santos, Jayesh Rane and Balwant Singh, Coppell has more relentless strikers than clinical, who could chase the ball and press higher rather than waiting for the correct time. Balwant was a continuous presence at the top for Mumbai City FC getting directly involved in as many as eight goals, and now with the likes of Lanzarote, Everton and Lyngdoh there to provide him the balls now, he should be unstoppable.
However, to accommodate so many new strikers, along with an already established Jayesh Rane in the side, Coppell might be seen shifting to 4-3-3 more often than not.
Strengths and Weaknesses
While defence would definitely be ATK’s strength going into the new season with so many experienced stalwarts guarding the post, the tricky thing would be to find the right combination between the midfield and the attack. Coppell has always been a defensive-minded tactician, even if he says he isn't, and ATK’s biggest challenge would be him thinking differently with a better arsenal at his disposal. I don't remember ATK having so many exciting talents up top and they are bound to see numerous goalscoring opportunities with an offensive approach. Continuing Coppell's approach from last season would only be a wasted opportunity.
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