Imbalance and underperformance: What's ailing ATK Mohun Bagan's star-studded attack?
ATK Mohun Bagan have always been a team filled with attacking riches. The team under Juan Ferrando in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 campaign is no different. The club added the likes of Dimitri Petratos and Ashique Kuruniyan to an already formidable attack comprising Hugo Boumous, Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh and Kiyan Nassiri.
With a focus on defensive additions in the summer transfer window leading up to the 2022-23 season, ATK Mohun Bagan were expected to be the complete package in the Hero ISL.
The Mariners struggled defensively during the initial part of the Spaniard’s tenure but have slowly managed to keep teams at bay as the season progressed. However, their attack, considered their key strength going into the season, has been misfiring all along.
ATK Mohun Bagan have scored just 17 goals in 13 matches this season, averaging 1.2 goals per game. Last season, the Mariners scored 39 times in 22 matches averaging 1.7 goals per game. Even in their first campaign under Antonio Habas, when they were considered slightly conservative, they netted at a rate of 1.4 goals per game.
The Kolkata giants are the lowest scorers in the top six and, despite being the second-best defensive unit in the league, they are all but out of the reckoning in the race for the top spot.
ATK Mohun Bagan have failed to keep pace with the unbeaten league leaders Mumbai City FC since the injury to midfielder Joni Kauko who added the necessary balance to the team.
“Joni Kauko has definitely been a massive miss for ATK Mohun Bagan. Since he's been out injured, you can see that ATK Mohun Bagan has not been the same. They don't have that same dominance that they've had with Kauko in midfield, and he and Federico Gallego are two completely different players,” former Hero ISL midfielder Darren Caldeira notes.
“Kauko is more like a box-to-box midfielder, likes to help his defenders out, puts in the challenges but also likes to get forward, and he's pretty creative. When he's got the ball, he has great feet and is technically gifted. On the other hand, Gallego likes to play in the final third, play more like a number 10 or an attacking midfielder, and we know the quality he's got as well,” he adds.
While new signing Dimitri Petratos has scored five goals, he isn't the out-and-out number 9 that this ATK Mohun Bagan side needs to finish off their chances. He likes to operate between the lines and cause defenders problems.
With the Mariners already having players to play in that position, Ferrando has a bit of a problem on his hands.
“For me right now, the problem with Juan Ferrando and his side in terms of scoring goals is that they don't have a proper number nine. They've got Dimitri Petratos playing in that position. But for me, he's more of an attacking midfielder who likes to drop into midfield and allows runners like Ashique (Kuruniyan), Liston (Colaco) and Manvir (Singh) to bump forward. So they've got too many players in that position,” Caldeira says.
“They've got (Dimtri) Petratos, they've got Hugo (Boumous), and Gallego, but they're missing a focal point, a number nine up front and for now, Juan Fernando has to make do with the squad he has,” he adds.
Inconsistency has been a problem with the Mariners’ attack, and Boumous has blown hot and cold this season. Injuries haven’t helped his case, but he hasn’t delivered to the extent Ferrando expected him to.
“As a head coach, in my opinion, if you're going to try and get a tune out of your best player, you have to work them out by now. Whether that puts the player under more pressure or takes the pressure off, and as a coach, that's the biggest problem,” former FC Pune City and Hyderabad FC head coach Phil Brown says.
“So bringing in Gallego could be a masterstroke as it can put Boumous under pressure and help him have a much better second half of the season,” adds Brown.
Another big problem facing Ferrando is the form of his Indian attackers, who contributed 17 goals last season compared to just three this campaign. That drop in numbers has severely handicapped ATK Mohun Bagan’s attack.
“I think between the Indian wing players or wide players, they have the least amount of assists and goals in the top six. You see, at Mumbai City FC, Bipin Singh and Lalianzuala Chhangte have scored over ten goals. So the output of the Indian attackers at ATK Mohun Bagan is not enough,” Brown expresses.
The Englishman is seconded by Caldeira, who feels the likes of Colaco, Manvir and Ashqiue could make a big difference to ATK Mohun Bagan’s fortunes if they managed to get on the scoresheet more often.
“They need the Indian player to step up and start scoring goals because defensively, they're still looking pretty solid with the experience of Subhasish Bose and Pritam Kotal along with Brandon Hamill. But going up front has been a problem for them. So, Ferrando needs to find the Indian players supporting Petratos and picking up some form,” he says.
With the Mariners yet to face Hyderabad FC, they have an outside chance of making the top two. But given their inconsistent form, they would be more worried about securing their place in the playoffs, which is far from guaranteed.
If Ferrando can find the right balance in attack, which can, in turn, help the Indian players flourish a bit more, ATK Mohun Bagan can be as big a force to be reckoned with in the final stages of the season as any other team.