14:30 GMT, Saturday 3rd February, Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (Kolkata, India), Sab TV UK
The defending champions host the current league leaders on Saturday in what’s turning out to be their worst season in the ISL history.
After recent changes to the coaching staff, ATK have failed to win any other their last two matches. They have now lost three matches in a row and six of their 12 games this season.
This is the most number of losses they have suffered in a single season and there’s still six league matches left to play.
Ashley Westwood's unfortunate climb to the ATK top job is further marred by the injury list, missing Robbie Keane, Ryan Taylor, Zequinha and Eugeneson Lyngdoh.
Bengaluru looks the most likely successor to ATK’s crown, while Chennaiyin, Pune and Goa are all playing well, they have been the most consistent.
Albert Roca will look to lift the trophy in their debut season and a win over ATK will further cement their position at the top.
Last Time Out
ATK 0-1 Jamshedpur FC (Indian Super League)
Westwood made wholesale changes to the team, partly forced by injuries and partly due to tactical reasons.
Midfielder Conor Thomas started at the heart of the defence besides Jordi Montel while David Cotterill shifted to the midfield base beside Hitesh Sharma. Robin Singh and Martin Paterson were given the responsibility to bring in the goals.
The first half of the match saw both teams create chances but neither could convert. Though Izu Azuka did put on past Debjit Majumder, it was deemed offside. Robin Singh and Martin Paterson had their chances to put ATK in the lead but failed to score.
ATK defence had started to show signs of decline a few matches back but their ability to close down teams in the midfield seemed lacking with Hitesh Sharma being out-muscled.
In the second half, Jamshedpur seemed to be the team in control. Ironically, the Men of Steel typically like to sit back and wait for the counter, but in their last match, they were eager to take the match to Kolkata.
Their efforts ultimately paid off when Hitesh Sharma’s foul on Trindade Goncalves, got the visitors a penalty. Goncalves flat-footed Majumder to send him the wrong way and ultimately won his team the match.
The hosts failed to strike back and have now lost three on the trot, their longest losing run.
Bengaluru 2-1 NorthEast United FC (Indian Super League)
Despite a rejuvenated NorthEast, the Blues stomped to a win courtesy of goals from centre-back Juanan and skipper Sunil Chhetri.
The Highlanders looked better when moving forward but the Blues found it too easy to move past their defence.
Juanan put in the first goal, courtesy of a perfectly flighted free-kick from Edu Garcia. The visitors looked to react, but their shots were comfortably saved by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
In the 45th minute, Seminlen Doungel’s dribbling inside the box saw them being awarded a penalty from Lenny Rodrigues' unintentional handball.
Marcinho converted the resulting spot-kick drawing the Highlanders back to level terms. However, six minutes into the start of the second half, saw Harmanjot Khabra float in a perfect cross to Sunil Chhetri inside the box, who safely guided the ball into the net, putting Bengaluru back in control.
There were a few more opportunities for the Blues but they failed to capitalise and NorthEast failed to mount any serious threat to the home side.
It’s a tough time for Ashley Westwood. Jayesh Rane and Robin Singh have not clicked for ATK while their option in the middle of the park remains unchanged with no new arrivals.
Robbie Keane is back to training with the team but might not start the next match, while centre-back Tom Thorpe looks likely to start beside Jordi Montel again which should prompt Conor Thomas to return to the holding midfield role.
Bengaluru FC Lineup
John Johnson and Juanan at the back were solid in the last match.
Lenny Rodrigues has progressed from his howlers in the mid-season matches while the front four have been consistent as well. Roca looks likely to retain the starting eleven against ATK.
Key Battle: Conor Thomas (ATK) vs Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
Thomas plays the same role that Ofentse Nato played in ATK’s title-winning seasons. His role sees him disrupt opposition play, steal the ball and start the attack from the back.
The Englishman made the highest number of interceptions in the squad (18 from 12 matches) while being the focal point of their play, making 746 passes in the same number of matches.
He will be essential for the defending champions to stop Chhetri from linking up with Miku, Udanta and Garcia and should be able to provide a tough challenge.
The Indian sharpshooter has been in stunning form this season, bagging eight goals in 12 matches.
He is one of the most versatile forwards in the Bengaluru lineup and will be responsible as a second striker to Miku. This has been his most successful season in his three seasons in the ISL and a win against ATK will seem him qualify for the playoffs for the first time.
Erratic recruitment and injury list hampering ATK’s season
The defending champions looked to be one of the best sides on paper, but the season has certainly changed that perception.
Previous seasons saw the spine of the team being built on the backs of experienced foreigners like Ofentse Nato, Borja Fernandez, Tiri, Henrique Sereno, Javi Lara and Josemi.
This season Jordi Montel and Tom Thorpe have taken over the mantle from Sereno and Tiri, but lack of options in the midfield has often left ATK lacking. Eugeneson Lyngdoh was bought to partner Thomas in the midfield but an injury in the match against Jamshedpur means he is probably out for the season.
The wings were supposed to be strengthened by the likes of Carl Baker and subsequently Ryan Taylor (Baker’s replacement) but injuries have played spoilt sport again. With no further options to provide stability to the team, the defending champions’ season is in shambles.
Prediction: ATK 0-2 Bengaluru FC
The Blues have peaked perfectly after a sudden downturn in a couple of matches mid-season. They won the first leg with a 1-0 margin but look set to win this one by a wider margin given ATK’s inability to score currently.