Hero ISL 2022-23 final: Key battles to watch out for in Bengaluru FC vs ATK Mohun Bagan
As Goa gets ready to host the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 final, Bengaluru FC and ATK Mohun Bagan are preparing well for the one last fight at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Goa, on Saturday.
Both teams qualified for the final after nail-biting penalty shootouts at the end of hard-fought two-legged semi-finals. The Blues recorded a win against League Shield Winners Mumbai City FC, whereas ATK Mohun Bagan came out winners against last season's champions Hyderabad FC, after a goalless semi-final tie.
Both ATKMB and BFC won a game each when they clashed in the league stages. And if the league stage results between these two teams are anything to go by, the margin for error is almost nil in the Hero ISL final.
Read: Revisiting ATK Mohun Bagan versus Bengaluru FC clashes this season
So, the mini battles on the pitch will be key for either team if they are to win the war. Here's a look at where the final could be won and lost:
Vishal Kaith vs Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
The Hero ISL 2022-23 final is going to witness a the battle between the past and present Golden Glove winners of the Hero ISL and the fortunes of both teams would heavily depend on these two Indian goalkeepers' individual brilliance. Though both the keepers are not going to be involved in 1v1 battle, their minds certainly will.
ATK Mohun Bagan custodian Vishal Kaith has displayed the best version of himself this season, compared the recent past. After a Hero of the Match performance in the second leg semi-final, Kaith will head into the final with the Hero ISL 2022-23 Golden Glove armband and confidence in his heart. He has 12 clean sheets to his name, the highest by any player in Hero ISL this season. With BFC scoring all their nine penalties in their semi-final penalty shootout against MCFC, the onus will be on the 26-year-old keeper to change the tide if the game goes that far. But on Saturday, Kaith will have to be on his toes with the Blues quite effective during attacking transitions.
Bengaluru FC captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is well and truly leading the side from the backline. Sandhu has seven clean sheets this season and the 31-year-old saved two penalties in the second leg semi-final fixture against Mumbai City FC, including one match-turning penalty save against Greg Stewart early on in the game. On Saturday, Sandhu's shot-stopping skills will be once again tested by the ATK Mohun Bagan attackers.
Dimitri Petratos vs Sandesh Jhingan
Hero ISL teams have struggled to score against BFC when the backline has maintained a solid shape. But, when the opponents have found the way to disrupt the BFC's defensive structure, the Blues have been vulnerable. It was the case against ATK Mohun Bagan in Bengaluru.
As Petratos interchanges his position in attack, he forces the defenders to move out of the position, which could cause disruption in BFC's backline during the final. The Australian is also known for his deadly finishing. He can operate as a poacher inside the box while also having the capability to find the goal from distance, making him very difficult to stop.
Former ATK Mohun Bagan player, Sandesh Jhingan, has been very solid for the Blues throughout the season. He has had 155 clearances to his name, the highest by any BFC player. Being at the center of three-man backline, Jhingan is hold key as he will have to fill up the spaces if Petratos forces the other two defenders out of their positions, like how he did in the last two matches against the Blues.
The Blues conceded two goals against the Mariners this season and on both occasions, the defenders either drifted out of their positions or failed to keep out long-range attempts. So, the Jhingan vs Petratos battle is going to be vitally important on Saturday night.
Javi Hernandez vs Carl McHugh
The two former teammates are going to battle hard in the heart of midfield in the Hero ISL 2022-23 final. This battle is intriguing as the onus will be on Hernandez to create the chances by pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch, whereas McHugh will be tasked with breaking down attacks. Interestingly, both players won the Hero ISL trophy together in Goa with ATK FC during the 2019-20 season but on Saturday, one will get the silverware at the cost of the other.
Hernandez is the top goalscorer for the Blues this season, with seven goals to his name, but what makes the Spaniard more dangerous is his style of play. He invites the defenders by his side and creates the attacking space for his teammates, who can score the goals. McHugh has to be aware of the triggers and signals between Hernandez and the two strikers, Roy Krishna and Sivasakthi Narayanan. These three players have 31 goal contributions among themselves, led by Hernandez, who has 12 goal contributions.
McHugh, on the other hand, is the midfield general for the Mariners. The Irishman is expected to dictate the pace of the game for the Mariners and the midfielder's presence will be vital on Saturday. He has 20 interceptions and would be looking to add few more to his tally. He could be key to stopping Hernandez from spraying the passes and initiating BFC forward. As both players' success depends on the other player's failure, this battle might have a huge impact on the end result.
Slavko Damjanovic vs Roy Krishna
This battle is unique in a way that Saturday's final would be the third Hero ISL final for Roy Krishna, whereas for Slavko Damjanovic, it will be his first Hero ISL final and his first match against the Blues this season.
Though Slavko Damjanovic joined the ATK Mohun Bagan during the winter transfer window, the defender has been at home since the day he wore the Green and Maroon jersey. Damjanovic marshalled ATK Mohun Bagan's backline during their semi-final clash against Hyderabad FC, helping them record two clean sheets over two legs. He also received the Hero of the Match award in the first leg. To replicate the same in the final, the defender has to toil hard against young Sivasakthi and an experienced figure in Krishna. Damjanovic's solid positioning and timely tackles could go a long way in helping ATKMB win the final.
A player like Krishna lives for the big matches. The Hero ISL champion has three goals and five assists to his name in the playoffs, the joint-highest goal contributions by any player in the Hero ISL knockout stage. Though the experienced striker is yet to record a goal contribution in this season's playoffs, one can't question the work rate of Krishna. Given the approach of both sides in the semi-finals, there could be a possibility that the game can go into extra time, and in that case, Krishna's endurance level would test Damjanovic's resilience.