As the 9th game got over for Atletico de Kolkata, they find themselves a summit to climb with 13 points, sitting in 4th position. A semi-final spot is not out of reach, but the champions could have all but guaranteed their prospects with some astute thinking.
The team was in good shape as it managed to retain its core. The likes of Iain Hume, Borja Fernández, Ofentse Nato, Sameehg Doutie et al. played a significant role in their run to semis last season. Keeping their players was a tough task as other teams had come swooping over for their signatures.
There was a change in the helm of affairs, however, as José Francisco Molina took over the reigns from Antonio López Habas. A goalkeeper himself, everyone expected Molina to reinvigorate the defensive play which was endorsed by ex-coach Habas. Quite contrary to the popular perception, ATK conceded 2 and scored 2 to snatch a point versus Chennaiyin FC in their opener.
With a goal difference of +1, it reflects on the woeful situation in both defence and offence. The passing play has improved, and it is a different brand of football under Molina. But without the proper cover up, the team fails to check the critical boxes.
New signings like Lalrindika Ralte, Bikash Jairu, were expected to play a major part in the ATK side. Till now, Jairu has not made any appearance since suffering a minor injury at the inception. Ralte, meanwhile, has failed to live up to his expectations. Another new signing Robert in the left back has been inconsistent and nervy in tight situations.
Borja and who?
The team selection raises a lot of questions. Nato has remained an unused substitute so far. Last two seasons, the central midfield pairing of Borja and Nato saw off ATK with close wins. This season, those have been hard to come. Pairing the Spaniard with Bikramjit Singh, Stephen Pearson or Jewel Raja, has left the central midfield area unsettled.
Consequently, the team has to rally to settle for a 2-2 draw, as they keep squandering leads. New signing Henrique Sereno, who came in late might still fit in. But he too has proved to provide more questions than answers so far. Molin's cause hasn't been helped with Tiri not at his best this season.
Last season Hume as a lone striker did a brilliant job. This time, after an initial injury scare, marquee man Hélder Postiga is back to support the Canadian. But, the pair fails to shoulder their responsibilities effectively. A lack of understanding of their roles is complicating things in the attacking third.
Another puzzling move is the introduction of 35-year old Juan Belencoso. The big bodied striker is clearly not in the best form of his life. Replacing Hume at the fag end seems to be a good ploy so that he is fit for the next game. But subbing him with the Spaniard has failed to produce any substantial gains thus far. Belencoso has the physique to his advantage. But his ineptitude in reading the game makes him a big zero in front of the goal.
Last year Sameehg Doutie was in prolific form with his meandering runs through the flanks. This season, after getting off to a brilliant start has failed to inspire much confidence with his play of late. His runs have been blocked too easily. His pace seems to have gone down.
The opposition has been able to mark him without much difficulty. Consequently, the right channel has failed to conjure up anything worthwhile.
Javi Lara had set tongues wagging with his intricate moves. But that has not benefitted the build up play. Not retaining the services of Jaime Gavilán has proved to be a major mishap. His absence has been conspicuous, to say the least.
The goals have been hard to come by. Chances have dried up even further. There is not a single name in the current squad who could own the number 10 position.
Lara was expected to step in. So far, he has been a disappointment in this regard. Gavilán played a critical role last year with his incisive passes. That position has been lying vacant since his departure.
Full backs still worrisome
The full backs were an area Atletico were supposed to be strong. However, with Keegan Perreira missing for the start of the season, the likes of Pritam Kotal and Robert have flattered to deceive. Consequently, Borja has an added task to drop back to the flanks and sort out the situation. The starting eleven is tinkered in almost every match. That adds to the inconsistency factor of the starting eleven. Molina needs to understand the same and quickly consolidate a formidable lineup.
The path to the top 4 is strewn with weal and woe. But, for the inaugural champions, the woes seem to get the better of the side. From now, the path is only uphill. The team selection needs to be well thought. The Spanish obsession needs to pave the way for better Indian players. A concoction of youth and experience is the call of the hour. The sooner Molina realises the same; the better are Atletico de Kolkata’s chances to win the trophy.
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Published 15 Nov 2016, 15:51 IST