A few days ago, at the Kanteerava, ATK and Bengaluru FC clashed swords, hoping to end their league campaign on a positive note. At that juncture, the sides were placed 2nd and 3rd respectively, meaning that a win for the hosts would’ve ensured the third spot whereas a defeat or a draw would’ve left the door open for Chennaiyin FC to leapfrog the Blues and consign the latter to a semi-final date with FC Goa.
However, as things transpired in Bengaluru and at Guwahati a few days later, it became clear that ATK and Carles Cuadrat’s men, despite only crossing paths on the 22nd of February 2020, were set to indulge in a gargantuan clash again, obviously with much more at stake.
Throughout the season, Bengaluru FC have fallen short of the astronomical standards they’ve set for themselves for the past couple of terms. Their attack has often looked devoid of ideas whereas their Indian contingent, especially in the offensive positions, has also failed to live up to its billing.
Fortunately for them though, they’ve boasted the luxury of falling upon a water-tight rear-guard, thereby allowing them to qualify for the last four. However, as push officially comes to shove against ATK in the semi-finals, the Blues would hope that they can produce a rendition of their stellar play-off run in 2017-18 and 2018-19, wherein they cruised to the final without too many hiccups.
ATK, on the other hand, raced out of blocks at the outset and have solidified their position over the course of their campaign. Roy Krishna has been in sizzling form for the Kolkata-based outfit while the likes of Michael Soosairaj and Prabir Das have accorded the side with the requisite thrust on the flanks.
Additionally, David Williams, Edu Garcia and Javi Hernandez have given a good account of themselves, meaning that their vast overseas contingent has flourished, despite the constant chopping and changing.
More impressively, ATK have shown a proclivity to shake things up, especially when pitted against its nearest competitors, thereby making them one of the more tactically flexible outfits in the league.
Rather intriguingly for the neutral though, Bengaluru FC have also specialized in such traits, with Cuadrat frequently prioritizing calculation over creativity.
Thus, when the pair comes face to face against each other in the semi-finals, one can expect a tactically-rich battle, wherein neither would be willing to give the other an inch.
Bengaluru FC vs ATK: Tactical Preview
For much of the season, ATK have relied upon their front two to wreak havoc in the attacking third. And, for large swathes, they’ve been pretty successful, considering the telepathic understanding Krishna and Williams enjoy.
Thus, the Kolkata-based outfit might look towards something similar for their visit to the Kanteerava on Sunday, with the aforementioned players hoping to capitalize on every counter-attacking opportunity that comes their way.
Another area that ATK might want to exploit would be the flanks, where players of the ilk of Prabir and Soosairaj have distinguished themselves. The Indian duo, despite not being touted at the start of the term, have regularly gotten in behind the opposition’s defence and have provided the ammunition for their forwards to make the net bulge.
Additionally, Bengaluru FC usually try to congest the midfield with Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu not too keen on getting forward, especially from open play. Thus, with space at a premium in the centre of the park, ATK might intend to attack the hosts with through balls down the channels either side of the centre-backs, thereby allowing their wing-backs the opportunity to foray forward and cause damage.
Bengaluru, meanwhile, would want to replicate the template that nearly brought them three points against ATK in the league fixture at the Kanteerava. On that occasion, Cuadrat mirrored the visitors’ formation, although he fielded a highly rotated side.
Though the Spaniard might not rival their formation by playing three at the back on Sunday, he might want to adopt a few facets that came off, on the 22nd of February.
Firstly, Leon Augustin caused all sorts of problems when he ghosted in behind Victor Mongil on the right flank. In fact, Kevaughn Frater’s goal came down that avenue when the Indian got to the by-line and cut the ball back for the Jamaican.
Thus, with Deshorn Brown expected to get the nod on Sunday, Cuadrat might ask him to drop deep several times and allow Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh the chance to run off him and into space.
Moreover, with ATK likely to opt for a 3-5-2 system, Brown’s movements into midfield would leave the three centre backs with no target man to mark, meaning that numerical superiority could be created in midfield.
Most importantly though, for ATK’s visit, the Blues would be able to call upon their talismanic skipper, Sunil Chhetri. The Indian has been nursing a hamstring injury for the past few weeks but returned to competitive football superbly, bagging a brace against Maziya S&RC in the second leg of their AFC Cup play-off.
Thus, Brown’s ability to drag the centre-backs out of position could enable Chhetri to function more centrally and in spaces where he is more lethal.
Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of narratives to immerse oneself in, especially when considering the myriad tactics that one could witness on Sunday. Yet, in such crunch matches, the outcome could also boil down to how certain individual players stack up against each other.
Bengaluru FC vs ATK: Key Battles
Sunil Chhetri vs Pritam Kotal
Despite missing a few fixtures in February, Chhetri remains the Blues’ highest goal-scorer in the ISL in 2019-20, having made the net ripple on 9 occasions. Moreover, in his absence, BFC lacked inspiration in the attack, a fact which was emphasized by their transformation post his arrival against Maziya on the 26th of February.
However, the Indian skipper would have his task cut out against his compatriot, Pritam Kotal, who has quietly enjoyed a solid season. He has popped up with 124 clearances, 65 tackles, 29 blocks and 27 interceptions, thereby casting himself as a vital defensive cog.
Thus, in light of Chhetri importance to Bengaluru FC, this could be a clash that ends up defining the contest.
Juanan Gonzalez vs Roy Krishna
Krishna made his ISL bow at the start of the season and has only gone from strength to strength since. The striker has carved defences open for fun and has rarely been contained by opposition defenders.
On Sunday though, he might arguably face his toughest test against Juanan, not just because of the Spaniard’s pedigree but also because of the occasion.
Krishna boasts excellent acceleration and likes to get past his marker on his first and second touches. Thus, Juanan would want to use his strength and anticipation to keep the Fijian in check.
Consequently, one can brace oneself for a titanic tussle between the pair. After all, at the Kanteerava, the seemingly irresistible force aka Roy Krishna would go toe to toe against the immovable object in Juanan Gonzalez.Published 27 Feb 2020, 13:55 IST