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ISL 2019 | Mistakes sub-standard Coppell cannot afford against Mumbai City FC

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ISL 2019 | Mistakes sub-standard Coppell cannot afford against Mumbai City FC

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Subhayan Dutta


ATK take on Mumbai City FC in probably the most important match of the season as they try to stay relevant in the race for the playoffs. However, standing in their way is their own manager Steve Coppell who needs to take a hard look that the humiliating loss against FC Goa to get a result.

Honestly, Coppell is out of his depth now. The veteran has had one of his worst managerial stints with the two-time ISL champions, managing an average of 1.31 points per game. The last time Coppell was this bad was back in the 1990s with Crystal Palace, where he had an average point of 0.82 over two seasons – 96/97 and 97/98. Though it has been only 16 games with ATK, Coppell has done better with Kerala Blasters (1.65 in 17 games), and Jamshedpur FC (1.45 in 20 games) taking charge of a similar number of games.

The competition in ISL has undoubtedly intensified over the last two years and given the above pattern, a 63-year-old Coppell seems to be outpaced now. And it was evident in the match against FC Goa where ATK’s defence, the second best in the league, leaked like a toxic gas that ended up engulfing the whole side. The visitors looked so vulnerable from Goa’s counters that they could hardly push up offensively with the forwards forced to drop back into the midfield to win balls.

However, the problem wasn’t succumbing to Goa’s pressing, which many teams have already been a victim of previously, but Coppell’s helplessness at the face of it. The last 30 minutes of the game saw the ATK players just waiting for it to end and it was at that moment that Coppell’s stint, at least for me, as the ATK manager ended. Coppell was given arguably the most star-studded squad this season and somehow he has managed to make them mediocre which begs the question if the English manager is even capable of winning at all. 

The season Coppell had finished second with Kerala Blasters, his club reached 22 points, while he managed 26 points with Jamshedpur FC last season with four more games added to the fixtures. Interestingly, ATK, with 21 points now and two more games to go, could end up in the simillar range as well. There exists a club of mid-table managers in the English Premier League with the likes of Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew being its more popular members. Apart from a sudden few high or low seasons, these managers have mostly been able to keep the teams afloat in the top flight with a proven brand of English football. And given how Coppell has failed to perform under pressure situations, he very much looks like that club’s representative in India. 

Coppell had admitted prior to the Goa match that he had to go “all in”, something he has rarely tried in his career. Hence, it wasn’t surprising to see ATK’s setup entrenched in flaws against Goa. And against Mumbai City FC on Friday, where the stakes would be the highest, Coppell should not repeat the mistakes he made against Goa if not coming up with tweaks in his formations. Though even that might not guarantee ATK results, given their discouraging home form where they have managed just 10 points off seven games, the fans would want the club to end their campaign on a high.

The single biggest mistake Coppell made against FC Goa was to not identify their main threat. Anyone remotely following Goa this season would know the significance the Ahmed Jahouh brings to the Goa setup. It is as if most times, Edu Bedia and Ferran Corominas are just the smoke screen up front for the opponents, only for the Moroccan international to pull strings from the deep. And while ATK fans expected their master tactician to see it, Coppell seemingly chose to ignore the most important piece of Goa’s puzzle.

 The holding midfielder was allowed as many touches as he wanted in the central midfield, which compounded by ATK’s disoriented defence, changed him into a tyrant for the two-time defending champions.

Jahouh was allowed to enjoy a whopping 84% passing accuracy and create two major chances and although the absence of Pronay Halder, the quintessential piece in ATK’s defense, made the job difficult for Coppell, he never bothered to put his finger on the source. It became clearer when Andrey Bikey came off the bench to replace midfielder Everton Santos just before half-time. ATK conceded seven minutes into the second half and the game was all but lost.

Jahouh gets all the time in the world to play the through ball for Mandar as not ATK defenders make the space. The move ended with Corominas missing an easy tap-in by a whsiker.

The most important player for Mumbai would be Pablo Machado who also comes from the midfield. Even if the likes of Moudou Sougou or Arnold Issoko run at your defence all day long, the vision almost always springs from the Portuguese, and stopping him would mean half the job done.

If there was one team in the league who weren’t expected to be schooled by Goa, it was ATK. So staunch has been their defence throughout this season that the most free-scoring of sides had failed to unlock it. However, seeing ATK’s performance against Goa, I felt that Coppell’s call to “go all in” had somehow ribbed off defending basics from his players. 

Jackichand Singh managed to score in the very first minute of the game and one look at the haphazard ATK defence was an early sign of things to come. The full-backs, Pritam Kotal, and Ricky Lallawmawma, were dragged out of position at every instance leaving the defence in shambles. If Jackichand, Mandar Rao Desai, and Brandon Fernandes looked lethal, Issoko and Rafael Bastos could easily eat up ATK’s flanks. Both of them have enough pace to run in behind the defence and with Sougou in the middle, who is physically superior to Corominas, things would be way tougher.

As if messing up with the core tactics wasn’t enough, Coppell also managed to get the most important thing wrong – the squad. In the absence of Manuel Lanzarote and Halder, Coppell had decided to bring in Everton Santos in the midfield and Kalu Uche up top. 

Playing centre-forward Santos in the midfield alongside Gerson Viera, who has been habituated to the balance that Halder brings, was suicidal especially when one has a veteran like Eugeneson Lyngdoh sitting on the bench. Getting Uche from Delhi Dynamos had brought a lot of expectations amongst the fans but the injury-plagued striker has ended up scoring just one goal in nine matches. Against Goa where physicality was hardly demanded, a fluid Santos could have made things much more difficult up front than Uche.

Picking Uche would be ideal against Mumbai though, where the muscular likes of Lucian Goian and Joyner Lourenco could be tackled better. With Halder and Lanzarote coming back to the side, things would be easier for Coppell for sure, but perfecting the other areas would solely be up to him. A Balwant Singh over Hitesh Sharma would be handy against a scrappy Mumbai side, who likes to foul their way to the goal. All in all, with Jamshedpur FC and Mumbai struggling off late, ATK could still hope for a mathematical miracle.

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