Atletico de Kolkata will host Chennaiyin FC at the Salt Lake Stadium in the second leg of the Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final tie on Wednesday. The defending champions will need nothing short of a miracle to overturn the three-goal deficit from the first leg at Pune.
The 0-3 loss in the first leg against Chennaiyin was Kolkata's biggest defeat since the inaugural season. The margin of the loss was a surprise considering Antonio Habas' ability to organize his team defensively in order to counteract any attack.
It was a lackluster outing for the men in red and white as none of their key players managed to influence the match. The injury, and early substitution, of Borja Fernandes did not help their cause as Chennaiyin dominated the midfield in his absence.
Antonio Habas will be without the Spaniard, and Ofentse Nato, for the second leg. Both these midfielders are key to the tactics used by the manager, and their absence will leave them vulnerable defensively. Jorge Alonso and Jaime Gavilan will be asked to play at the base of the midfield, and neither of them are proper defensive midfielders.
The big news, however, is the possible return of Helder Postiga to the line-up. The Portuguese forward has been missing for the Kolkata-based club since picking up an injury in his debut match against Chennaiyin, where he scored two goals with two shots. He has finally regained match fitness and is expected to make an appearance in the startling line-up, or from the bench. With his team in desperate need of goals, Postiga could turn out to be the trump card for the home team.
Habas faced a lot of criticism for playing Sameehg Doutie on the right wing in the last game. With Chennaiyin fielding Harmanjot Khabra as the right back in the absence of the suspended Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Kolkata missed the opportunity to exploit the situation.
The Kolkata manager will also have to plug the space behind the fullbacks, which was exploited by Chennaiyin in the first leg. Chennaiyin midfielders kept pinging long cross-field balls to the wings, trying to use the pace of Stiven Mendoza and Jeje Lalpekhlua to get behind Rino Anto and Augustin Fernandes.
It will be a catch-22 situation for Habas. With the team in need of goals, Habas will have to ask his team to push up the pitch, but deploying a high line of defence against the pace of Mendoza and Jeje will can be suicidal.
Marco Materazzi, on the other hand, has the added option of welcoming back Wadoo and Elano into the team. The duo are available for selection, having served their suspension, and Raphael Augusto is the only player who is missing from the squad currently, due to an injury.
The Italian manager will put Wadoo back into the starting line-up and replace Zakeer Mundampara with Khabra in the midfield. However, he will have to deal with the Elano-Pelissari dilemma. Bruno Pelissari broke the deadlock in the first leg with his stunning strike from a free-kick, and his ability to play on the wings provides Materazzi with a lot of tactical flexibility.
But with Chennaiyin placed comfortably in this match, Materazzi might opt to rest Pelissari and bring back Elano into the team. That will also mean that the visitors will have to make a slight change to their usual formation of 4-3-3.
With 60,000 supporters backing them in their home ground, one can expect a much improved performance from Atletico de Kolkata in this game. They will play aggressively and score goals, but it will also leave them vulnerable at the back. Kolkata will win the battle, but will lose the war.