Like every season, ATK would be approaching the tournament with absolute grit and quality, but it is their inconsistency that has been a problem in recent times. However, the club has brought in a title-winning Antonio Habas this season, who could fetch results regardless of those shortcomings.
Performance Last Season
While ‘decent’ wouldn’t be an apt term in describing ATK’s last season, ‘progressive’ would be a less debatable description. And the management of the two-time champions should really be credited for their fast learning ability following their cut-off from Spanish giants Atletico Madrid. The season with Teddy Sheringham at their helm had desperation written all over them, with the side aiming for the title straightaway after getting reduced significantly philosophy-wise. They finished ninth that season.
However, while ISL is littered with teams who would have attempted another glorious season straightaway and fail terribly, ATK took the methodical route. Appointing Steve Coppell wasn’t aimed at getting back the club their glory days, but to bring them out of the puddle to a mediocre standard – and the Englishman did exactly that. The Kolkata-based franchise finished a respectable sixth last time and more than the rise in the table, it is the way they played that reflects improvement.
They were the fourth-lowest conceding side in the whole season and finished just five points behind the fourth-placed NorthEast United FC. ATK have done away with the coach this season and have made significant investments in the squad as well.
Filling the Gaps
Coppell was very particular about his army and the management did try to get him most of them. However, the rigid structure required rigid players and in the likes of Kalu Uche, Everton Santos, Balwant Singh, and others, Coppell had formed a squad that could stop the strongest of forces as far as defending was concerned, but lacked creativity up top. Manuel Lanzarote’s recurring injuries forced the side to bring in Javi Hernandez mid-season but it was too late before he could eventually settle in.
ATK have recognized their shortcomings well and have brought in some real specialists to get the job done for Antonio Habas. While the likes of Jayesh Rane and Komal Thatal were the side’s first-choice wingers last season, the management has polished the flanks with stars like Michael Soosairaj and Jobby Justin this time. A below-average Kalu Uche now has as an extremely mobile Roy Krishna replacing him, while the midfield would see more Australian athleticism through David Williams and Dario Vidosic playing on either side of a combative Pronay Halder.
Hence, while the team knew only one way of playing last season regardless of their opponent, this ATK side has the arsenal to improvise as and when required and under a more dynamic Antonio Habas.
Fortunately for the fans, ATK have also been dealt with easier fixtures to begin their season with. Despite knowing the league inside out and winning it once before, Habas would need some time to get going with a new clutch of players and finding his best eleven on a match-day. And his job is relatively easier barring an extremely difficult opening day fixture away against a massively star-studded Kerala Blasters side. Their next three matches, before the league goes into a break, are against work-in-progress sides like Jamshedpur FC and Hyderabad FC and a resurgent Chennaiyin FC team, who aren’t expected to pose any massive threat for the side.
In fact, ATK’s difficult run of games doesn’t come until December 25, from when they face Bengaluru FC, Mumbai City FC, Kerala Blasters, and FC Goa one after the other. However, the side would have played already played nine games till then and would be expected to compete at the highest level. As far as the ending is concerned, ATK would have to play NEUFC, Jamshedpur FC, Odisha FC, Bengaluru and Chennaiyin in their last five games. Hence, if their playoff chances remain at stake at all at the time, Habas could be targeting a decent end to their season by winning at least three of them.
Convincing someone like Habas must have been a difficult job, to begin with given the manager has never aimed for anything shorter than winning the title. However, if ATK are following a method to their progression, they aren’t aiming for a top finish or an AFC Champions League spot by any means. The Spaniard would be looking for a top-four spot, to begin with and ATK wouldn’t be compromising on that by any means.
Unlike Coppell, Habas wouldn’t take a defeat sitting and fans should be expecting some fireworks both on and off the field. And quite interestingly, the players in the squad are quite in tandem with their manager’s high-pressing counter-attacking playing style, which should be enough to keep the likes of Krishna, Vidosic, and Justin motivated throughout the season.
However, even if some wins come guaranteed for ATK, they would come in a scrappy manner and that is quite a gamble. Despite the impressive squad and full proven manager at the helm, ATK are expected to finish fourth in the points table this season.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi