Iain Hume of Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) can hurt any defence on the counter-attack if he is given room to manoeuvre. The Canadian striker can score with head or feet, create chances for teammates and can be more than a handful and Delhi Dynamos FC tried to deny him the ball by tackles and fouls. Atletico need him fit and firing for the away match against a supremely confident Mumbai City FC next, riding high after six matches.
ATK coach Antonio Habas is hurting too, in the wake of three defeats in a row, each one by a single-goal margin. There is nothing wrong with the squad in the attacking zone, but momentary lapses in concentration in their own half neutralises the hard work done to keep ball possession. The head coach changed goalkeepers, moving Amrinder Singh after the first two games for Juan Sanchez and then brought back the Indian for the sixth tie. But the conceding of late goals continues.
Custodian Edel Bete’s absence is being felt by Habas (the Cameroon shot-stopper switched sides to Chennaiyin FC). The backline is not settled, due to changes by the Spanish head coach in an effort to lend solidity of the sort ATK were known for in last year’s ISL. Bete’s exit is something ATK has to live with and the non-availability of marquee player and striker Helder Postiga due to injury picked up after two goals in the opener is an open wound now.
Hume’s exertions upfront in creating chances with slick passing have not been fruitful so far, leaving the defending champion in the lower half of the table after three losses in six matches. Habas’ assembly of midfielders includes Valmiro Rocha (Valdo) from Real Madrid and Spain U-21. He saw Postiga carried out on a stretcher, then came on as substitute against Chennaiyin and scored off a Hume pass.
ISL 2014 sensation Borja Fernandez is another ace in the pack. This Eibar and Real Madrid player, armed with La Liga experience in a defensive midfield role, is influential on the pitch and will be marked, besides Hume who was lucky to escape without major injury following repeated fouls by the Delhi defenders. Izumi Arata’s fitness problems limit Habas’ hand in the offence, even as he seeks the right personnel at the back.
Long road ahead
Nicolas Anelka is in a position to eye a top-four finish for Mumbai City FC, though the player-coach is aware of the distance to be covered before getting there. Ahead of the match against the defending champions on Sunday, the Frenchman is pretty satisfied with how his team has performed so far.
With the team currently occupying the fourth place in the table, Anelka is cautious about the road ahead. “There are many games to come. If we have to fight on the pitch, the position (on the league table) can change very quickly. I keep telling my players there is a long way to go. The aim is to reach the semis.” The home side has won three matches in a row, while the visitors have lost three on the trot.
Anelka is only too aware of the competition between the eight sides. “There are no easy games here. ATK is a good team and play hard, even if it is tough for them right now, like it happened to us earlier. When things are not going your way, you have to be patient and work hard in training.”
Mumbai City lost the opener, drew goalless next and tasted defeat in the third tie. Three consecutive home wins at the D. Y. Patil Stadium puts MCFC in a dominant position. Anelka says, “Everyone wants to win, on the pitch it is a different game. We will try out best and see what happens (against ATK).”
Even though he is in charge of the team, the Frenchman has opted to play sparingly. “Of course I want to play and score goals, but you have to make everybody happy.”
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