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ISL Tactical Analysis | Steve Coppell's selection fiasco compounded by players' naivety costs ATK game against Kerala

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ISL Tactical Analysis | Steve Coppell's selection fiasco compounded by players' naivety costs ATK game against Kerala

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Subhayan Dutta


While ATK’s ISL start has been the worst in the last five seasons, a closer look at their tactics hints at more team selection errors in the side than individual flaws. Steve Coppell needs to iron them out and find the right combination for the squad that has all elements to win the title.

Steve Coppell gets it wrong in midfield

While managing a rich franchise team has its advantages wherein the manager can chase almost any player the scout reports positively about, the downside would be ending up with too many choices. However, a master tactician like Steve Coppell wasn’t expected to struggle with it given his immense experience and a crystal clear mind about what he wanted from each player on the field. While he had shown tremendous astuteness with his setups with Jamshedpur FC last season, ATK couldn’t make much use of it. Starting the game with El Maimouni Noussair alongside Pronay Halder in the midfield, the latter’s role was to win headers and play the ball at of Manuel Lanzarote’s feet, ATK’s prime playmaker- something in which he fared terribly.

 Kerala Blasters midfielders fight for the ball as no ATK player closes down.

Noussair’s primary task was pretty much struck off after a while when Kerala was found playing possession football instead of taking the aerial route and the Moroccan was left to chase defenders consequently and break Kerala’s build-up from the back. And this is where things went wrong, for the towering midfielder panned out to be blind defensively and gave possession away too easily. The likes of Balwant Singh and Lanzarote were seen dropping down to win balls and defend from set-pieces leaving ATK toothless up top. The offensive midfielder was supposed to press higher up failing in which Kerala’s Sahal Samad and Slavisla Stojanovic ruled the midfield feeding to the flanks repeatedly. Coppell didn’t get him off early in the first-half for the goalless scoreline wasn’t a threat then, but by the 73rd minute, it was too late to mend things. We expect a more mobile player next match in that position like Eugeneson Lyngdoh or Gerson Viera for that matter, who had created an impact from the midfield last season. 

Kerala Blasters’ wingers create a raucous  

Though it is very early to make this claim but Kerala seem to have gotten their tactics and transfers right on target. Appointing an inexperienced manager to lead them, the KB management didn’t risk a lot of money in transfers leaving David James to prove his mettle first. And the Englishman seems to have got his plan right, at least for now. James played a huge gamble in getting in two new faces in Matej Poplatnik and Slavisla Stojanovic in the ISL, and in order to reduce the damage if things went wrong, he brought in Halicharan Narzary and  Seiminien Doungel. While ATK’s tactical deficiency played a huge role for them to flourish, one cannot discount the fact that the northeast duo looked at their lethal best when on the counter.

 Kerala Blasters winger left totally unmarked following his late run into the box.

It was an all-round performance that brings them the applause. While both of them could put in a combined three crosses in total, it was their game reading intellect that was creating more problems. Doing their defensive job just as well, both Stojanovic and Sabad were put into spaces by the wingers innumerable times just outside the box that led to continuous long attempts by the visitors. With both El Noussair and Jayesh Rane not stretching enough to help Sena Ralte on the left flank, Narzary could exploit it more compared to the other side, where both Pronay Halder and Balwant fell back to make it uncomfortable for Doungel. It is also needless to say that ATK full-back’s contribution offensively was next to zilch. The hosts would desperately need a more experienced face on the defensive flanks after Aiborlang Khorjee’s horror show on Saturday. With John Johnson looking nervous in the centre and Prabir Das on the bench, ATK could do better in those positions.

ATK’s attacking blend needs more time than expected

It would be unfair to assume things before Steve Coppell is given a few weeks to experiment with his bunch of players. Incorporating as many as 18 players in the squad fast is no easy feat by any means, but given that the league would last only four months no club really has much time at their disposal. Hence, when things went haywire during the first-half of the game, Coppell was expected to make certain tweaks here and there that could have seen a different result altogether. While Coppell rightly justified his decision to field Everton Santos ahead of Kalu Uche up top for the Brazilian’s sheer pace over Sandesh Jhingan, he was wrong to persist with Jayesh Rane on the left for long. 

The India winger, although eye catching at times, was the most wasteful of the attacking lot and hardly contributed offensively. Playing in a wide forward role, he managed zero crosses in the entire game and barring the one in the 27th minute, where his chest lay down for Santos saw the ball almost skimming Kerala’s bar, Rane was ineffective. On the right flank, the relentless and batting Balwant Singh was of great help defensively, but when it came to score goals and create chances, even he failed miserably managing no shots on target whatsoever. Everton was deserted most of the time with his clever runs from Lanzarote’s deep passes ATK’s only hope. Getting in Uche and Cavin Lobo would hardly help when the team didn’t have even 50% of the total possession. ATK managed only seven crosses in the entire game and all of them when Everton, who is not known for his height, was spearheading the attack. If pace is his biggest attribute, he could very well start on the wider role and even then the perfect combination would be a pain to find.

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