14:30 GMT, Saturday 24th February, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Delhi, India), Sab TV UK
The Dynamos will take confidence from their recent draw with FC Goa when they host a struggling ATK side on Saturday.
Miguel Angel Portugal’s side showed why they are still considered a threat, despite their inconsistency.
Due to their sheer quality on the pitch, they can still be a menace to teams looking to qualify for the semifinals and, while ATK has no such aspirations, they’ll be looking to shine.
ATK’s season has not gone as planned for interim head coach Ashley Westwood who will be eager to salvage some positives for the season with the remaining games.
Westwood has had a successful stint in India with Bengaluru FC. When he was brought in as the Technical Director at ATK, expectations were that they would work his magic for the Kolkata side in a similar manner.
But after Teddy Sheringham’s sacking mid-season, the Manchester United academy graduate hasn’t been able to turn the season around, despite showing an improved performance.
Last Time Out
FC Goa 1-1 Delhi Dynamos FC (Indian Super League)
This was an exciting match between a side who had nothing to lose and a side who needed every single point to qualify for the semifinals of the playoffs.
The Dynamos were dominated in most parts of the game as the visitors kept 58% of the ball while pulling off six shots on target against Delhi’s two.
Xabier Iruetaguena pulled off a couple of brilliant saves as Ferran Corominas hovered near the penalty area looking for the breakthrough.
The Dynamos crowded their area in front of their 18-yard-box in an effort to close down the Goan attackers and succeeded for the most part until Hugo Boumous’s long-range effort took a deflection off Gabriel Cichero to land in the back of the net.
The Dynamos chose to bring on Jeroen Lumu and Arnab Das Sharma to bring a more attacking presence in the midfield as they look to equalise.
It took some effort as Lallianzuala Chhangte spurned one chance putting the ball into the side-netting.
He redeemed himself as he took Lumu’s pass and squared it to Kalu Uche who banged it beyond Naveen Kumar to level the scoreline and steal a point from Goa.
ATK 1-2 Mumbai City FC (Indian Super League)
The defending champions continued to struggle as they lost a closely fought encounter to Mumbai.
The holders dominated the possession but gave it away with loose passes too many times which allowed the visitors to capitalise on their mistakes as Ryan Taylor played in front of the back four as the holding midfielder allowing Conor Thomas to play a more advanced and creative role.
However, Taylor’s recent injury meant he lacked the mobility needed for that role as Kolkata struggled to restrain Achille Emana.
The visitors took the lead in the 32nd minute with a freekick struck by Marcio Rozario as the wall failed to keep the ball out leaving Soram Poirei to defend the goal. The keeper didn’t have enough power behind the block and it bounced off his hand and into the net.
After the restart, Kolkata took a more attacking role as Bipin Singh exploited Rozario’s lack of pace to go behind him and slot Thomas’s delicate through-ball beyond Amrinder Singh.
However, a picture-perfect header from Rafa Jorda handed the visitors back their lead as ATK was left to rue their missed chances.
Delhi Dynamos Lineup
Portugal is likely to go back to a 4-2-3-1 after he used a 4-1-4-1 to stop Goa’s fluid play. The starting eleven though is likely to remain the same, except for Paulinho Dias who could come in to replace Manuel Arana.
Nandhakumar Sekar continues to be left out of the squad due to injury.
ATK looked much better in the final third but lacked the cohesion in defence. With Tom Thorpe out with injury, Anwar Ali might get a start alongside Jordi Montel, while Kunzang Bhutia should be given a chance in the absence of Debjit Majumder after a few lacklustre performances from Soram Poirei.
Key Battle: Jeroen Lumu (Delhi Dynamos FC) vs Conor Thomas (ATK)
Delhi came back into the game shortly after Jeroen Lumu was brought on and it was he who picked out Lallianzuala Chhangte with a defence-splitting pass which ultimately led to Kalu Uche’s goal.
This trend has been seen multiple times throughout Delhi’s season and despite the lack of direct assists to his name, Lumu has had a hand in starting or creating Delhi’s opportunities by playing a deeper creative role.
The Dutch midfielder is only 22-years-old and despite his tender age, he has shown plenty of maturity, anticipating moves and creating spaces for the forwards.
The person who played a similar role for the defending champions in their last game was Conor Thomas.
The 24-year-old Coventry City midfielder has majorly placed in the double pivot or as a holding midfielder for ATK, but using Ryan Taylor at the base of the midfield allowed Thomas to play further up-field which ultimately led to him creating Bipin Singh’s goal.
He has often been the best player on the pitch for ATK and against the Dynamos, his ability to create opportunities as well as disrupt opposition play will come to good use.
No risk for either side should mean a good showing for the fans
With both the teams out of the running for the playoffs, the fans can expect an exciting match as both the outfits have improved in their last few games.
Since, Sheringham’s departure, the Kolkata-based team has grown in their attacking fluidity while losing the famed defence that made them two-time champions.
The Dynamos too have had similar problems, faltering in defence but flourishing in counter-attack as Chhangte, Uche and Romeo Fernandes link-up.
While it may be a not-so-amusing encounter for the partisan fans, given that the teams will not make it to the playoffs, the neutrals might have something to cheer for since it has all the potential to be a goal fest.
Prediction: Delhi Dynamos FC 2-2 ATK
There’s a lot of potential in the attacking third while the teams continue to falter in defence. Promises to be an exciting game and defensive frailties might open up the goal for either team.