At the end of a long and arduous season, ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) and Bengaluru FC (BFC) have one final hurdle to cross as both teams prepare to clash for the Indian Super League 2022-23 title.
For ATKMB, it is a chance to make history by winning the title for the first time in its glorious history. BFC, which started its season in prime fashion by winning the Durand Cup, will look to add the ISL title to its trophy cabinet after four years.
Before this season, ATKMB was the bogey team for BFC, as it had never won a match against the Kolkata Giant. However, Simon Grayson’s men ended that agonising record when both teams met the last time in the season. Sunil Chhetri and his team registered a 2-1 victory against the Mariners in front of a loud and hostile crowd at the Salt Lake Stadium. These circumstances have set the stage for both teams to have a cracker of a contest in the final.
Juan Ferrando, head coach of ATKMB, has not seen his side enjoy a smooth season. Despite having the most clean-sheets (12), along with Hyderabad FC, the Mariners have not been able to dominate their opponents, with many wins coming by a margin of just one goal. But Ferrando was never unsure about the capability of his team.
“I remember just before Christmas, we [ATKMB] had suffered a 1-0 loss against NorthEast United FC that raised a lot of questions. I had a phone call with my club director that day and told him that this team will reach the ISL final. Today, we are here,” said Ferrando.
Ferrando refuses to ponder on past events, rendering them irrelevant. “The most important thing is that we are in the final. It is not just about me, or any one player. It is about winning the trophy, and as a coach, I want to help my players,” he added.
Pritam Kotal, a crucial figure at the heart of the Mariners backline, is standing on the cusp of glory. The 29-year-old centre-back has the chance to lead ATKMB to its first-ever ISL title. With prospective glory comes added pressure, but Kotal chosses the optimistic route.
“Yes, it is one of the biggest matches of my career, and the thought of winning the title with Mohun Bagan gives me motivation, not fear or pressure,” said Kotal.
Beating the odds
It is easy to forget how disappointing a start Bengaluru had, given it is about to challenge for the ISL title. But under Grayson, the Blues have scripted an inspirational comeback. But, for captain Chhetri, nothing matters when both teams come out from the tunnel to run the final lap.
- ⦿ ATK Mohun Bagan is the eighth-highest-scoring team of the ISL 2022-23 season, having scored a total of 26 goals.
- ⦿ ATKMB has kept 12 clean sheets, which is the joint-best with Hyderbad FC. The Mariners have conceded 17 goals throughout the campaign.
- ⦿ ATKMB top scorer: Dimitrios Petratos (10 goals)
- ⦿ Bengaluru FC is the sixth-highest-scoring team of the ISL 2022-23 season with 30 goals.
- ⦿ BFC has kept seven clean sheets.
- ⦿ BFC top scorer: Javier Hernandez (Seven goals)
“If my mathematics is right, we needed six wins and two draws in our last eight games. We won six and still didn’t qualify. So, we needed to win the seventh one. From there, beating teams like Kerala [Blasters] and Mumbai [City FC] has been outstanding. We are proud of it, but everything goes out of the window tomorrow,” Chhetri said.
Grayson has the chance to become the second English manager to win the ISL title after John Gregory, who led Chennaiyin FC to its second title in 2018. It was a difficult start for Grayson in the first half of the ISL season, but the Englishman was always confident of eventually steadying the ship if the players trusted his process.
Also, Grayson said that it is part of his job to make some difficult decisions for the team’s betterment. An example of this was to drop a 38-year-old Chhetri from the starting eleven and use him as an impact sub.
“Leaving someone of his quality, experience, and professionalism out is a really tough decision. But as a coach, regardless if it’s Sunil Chhetri or Rohit Kumar, I have to make what I think is the right decision,” said Grayson.
For ATK Mohun Bagan, Ferrando will be relieved to have winger Ashique Kuruniyan back for the final and could come in place of Kiyan Nassiri in the XI. Ashique, who will be playing against his former team, will most likely team up with Hugo Boumous, who will play the No. 10 role, and Manvir Singh on the right flank. Dimitrios Petratos will be the lone striker.
Carl McHugh is expected to play the anchor in midfield role and help the team transition from defence to attack.
Asish Rai, Pritam Kotal, Slavko Damjanovic, and Subhasish Bose are expected to make up the back-four, with Golden Glove winner Vishal Kaith starting in goal.
For Bengaluru FC, it is highly unlikely that Grayson will tinker with his successful combination since the start of the year. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will start in goal, and in front of him, will be Aleksandar Jovanovic, Sandesh Jhingan and Bruno Ramires, who have brought defensive solidarity to the Blues since Grayson shifted to a back-three. Roshan Naorem and Prabir Das will operate as the wingbacks.
The Blues midfield should consist of the trio of Rohit Kumar, Suresh Singh Wangjam, and Javier Hernandez. In attacking duty, Grayson is expected to go with the dynamic duo of Sivasakthi Narayanan and Roy Krishna.