Two sides that can – as the chant goes – score when they want will take the field on Saturday in the Indian Super League (ISL) final in Goa. ATK and Chennaiyin FC – both eyeing their third title will entertain us in what could be a highly attack-minded game.
Both sides boast of formidable attacks, prolific in the final third. Nerijus Valskis and Lallianzuala Chhangte have been in charge of producing goals for the Marina Machans, while Roy Krishna and David Williams have been ATK’s gunmen.
Rafael Crivellaro – with his knack to produce defence-splitting passes and ability to carry the ball in a progressive direction – has been at the heart of Chennaiyin’s creativity. On the other hand, Edu Garcia and Javi Hernandez have been great in glimpses. ATK are also heavily dependent on Prabir Das to produce supply from the right wing.
Also, the circumstances under which the teams have scored goals sets them apart from the other teams in the league.
Thanks to a 4-1 win at home against FC Goa in the first leg of the play-off, Chennaiyin just had to prevent a calamity at Fatorda to book their slot in the finals. However, the Gaurs scored two early goals to tilt the tie in their favour. Jackichand Singh missed an easy chance to seal the tie and within seconds, the Marina Machans got their goal through Chhangte. Just seven minutes later, Valskis made it 2-2 to all but confirm his team’s fate.
Goa dominated most parts of the game, but Chennaiyin converted twice from whatever little they could muster in the 90 minutes. This is a prime example of efficiency and the sheer will to get the crucial goals in a big game.
That was not the first time the two-time champions stepped up to net the ball when most needed. Lucian Goian scored from a header in the dying moments against his former side Mumbai City to provide his side with a massive win that helped them enter the top-four.
In the following game, Chennaiyin were 2-1 down against NorthEast United FC in a dead rubber fixture. Having already qualified for the play-offs, a defeat would not have done much harm to Chennaiyin’s season. But Chhangte scored in injury time to ensure his side maintained the two-month unbeaten run and entered the play-offs in good momentum.
ATK’s attack has also shown great fortitude in front of goal in times of necessity. After conceding an early goal to Bengaluru FC in the second leg of the play-offs besides the one they did at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Antonio Habas’ men needed three to book a date with Chennaiyin in the final. Given Bengaluru’s excellent defensive record of conceding just 16 goals in 19 games until then, this was bound to be a mountain to climb.
But Krishna and Williams rose to the occasion to provide Kolkata with a night to remember, completing a historic comeback against the defending champions.
This was not the first time the Australian striker walked away from the pitch after leaving Bengaluru in shambles. He was also the lone goalscorer when the two sides locked horns at the Salt Lake Stadium in the league stage. ATK were the better side on that day, but most importantly, they got the goal to show for and a win to build the momentum into the new year.
A month later, substitute Balwant Singh scored in the fifth minute of injury time to ensure his side was not involved in a 0-0 draw against NorthEast United FC. This is yet another instance of ATK chasing a game to the death and churning out a favourable result.
Quality upfront is necessary but not definite recipe for attacking success. The ability to score at will has a lot to do with the mentality of the players, which is usually built by the manager. Owen Coyle and Habas must hence be credited for instilling belief in their players.
It will now be interesting to see how the two managers will line up their teams for the summit clash. Their strength lies in the attack. There is a lot of similarity between their approach to the game, and in theory, two attack-minded teams should provide us with a goal-fest.
However, it is not uncommon for managers to adopt a defence-first pragmatic approach in the finals. Will either manager change the way his team approaches the game, will both managers consider it a feasible option or will both the sides charge at each other all guns blazing? We are set for what promises to be an exciting contest.