ISL 2019-20 | ATK’s black curse to Gombau’s genius - Talking points from Odisha’s home draw

ISL 2019-20 | ATK’s black curse to Gombau’s genius - Talking points from Odisha’s home draw

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Odisha FC started their home fixtures with a stalemate against an in-form ATK at Pune’s Balewadi Stadium on Sunday. And although the 0-0 won’t see much of a change on the points table, the match was filled with subtle nuances from both ends which were delightful for the neutrals.

Josep Gombau has many cards up his sleeve

It was a horrible sight for Odisha fans to see their star Xisco Hernandez missing from the starting eleven. The former Bengaluru FC man has been a livewire for the Juggernauts this season so far, scoring twice in four matches already, and without his creativity, many Odisha assumed would be toothless up-front. However, it was evident from the very start of the match that it wasn’t going to be the case on Sunday.

Aridane Santana, who was a doubt for the match after suffering a head injury against Kerala Blasters prior to the international break, where he was stretchered out of the ground, dropped back to make up the difference. With both Josep Gombau and Antonio Habas assuring that they would stick to their philosophy approaching the fixture, the visitors were up for a surprise. The No. 9 was seen falling as deep as the centre line to win balls, which in hindsight, was planned keeping in mind ATK’s tremendous physicality in the attacking third.

And boy did it work! The Spaniard first won the ball 25 yards from ATK’s goal and fearlessly took a slice at it with the ball whizzing just past the post. However, with novice Daniel Lalhimpuia not timing his runs properly, Aridane’s efficacy was cut by half. Although Gombau fixed that in the second-half, the closest they got after that was a half-chance at the far post on the 65th minute.

ATK’s black curse

There isn’t an ounce of doubt that the Habas-coached side has been one of the best in ISL so far. They have scored 10 goals in four matches and against the likes of Hyderabad FC and Jamshedpur FC before coming to the match. However, one couldn’t overlook their shaky display on the road against Kerala, Chennaiyin, and again today in Pune.

While for the neutrals, these aren’t poor stats given they have scored as many as eight of their 10 goals on home turf, this is a big concern for ATK fans. ISL is only six-years-old and the concept of home and away, although marketed well to attract fans, isn’t quite real yet. Hence, ATK’s lack of form whenever they put on their black jersey, which includes mistimed passes, decreasing tenacity, and flawed decision-making inside the box, makes very little sense.

Winning most of the matches at the home turf and settling for a draw away from it is a common practice amongst most clubs across the world. But, when it comes to ISL it looks like a psychological issue more than anything else. For instance, in Sunday’s match at Balewadi, which wasn’t home for Odisha as well, the Juggernauts looked more composed on the ball and came close to scoring numerous times with ATK only escaping by the skin of their teeth. It would be illogical to assume Habas asked his team to approach this game as an away fixture more than it was for Odisha. It doesn’t add up, does it?

Let’s talk about Jerry!

Self-admittedly from head coach Gombau, Odisha thrives on their wingers doing extremely well; and “extreme” isn’t used as an exaggeration here. For Aridane Santana to keep scoring, he would need at least one of his fellow wide men to have a wonderful day and most importantly he needs them to remain composed.

And 22-year-old Jerry Mawihmingthanga has shown those attributes in abundance so far. It has bewildered a few how the inexperienced winger could is on the receiving end of a relentless flurry of long floating balls time in and time out from difficult angles and almost always has a sturdy-towering-defender man-marking him. At 162cm, he is the smallest guy on the field and his lanky-ish body structure does mean that he will be outmuscled, more often than not, off the ball in a tussle.

However, Jerry still has one goal and three assists in five matches and was one of Odisha’s better players up top despite the likes of Augustin Iniguez, Pritam Kotal, and Anas Edathodika keeping an eye on him. Josep Gombau has rated him highly and he has stood up to those expectations, although he’s hasn't been able to impress Indian head coach Igor Stimac yet.

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