Unstoppable in attack, uncertain in defence: Erik Paartalu analyses ATK Mohun Bagan

ATK Mohun Bagan had a difficult build-up to the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season after exits from the AFC Cup inter-zonal semi-final and the Durand Cup group stages.

The Mariners’ struggles continued into the league season as well when Chennaiyin FC came from behind to beat them in the season opener in Kolkata. 

The start after the team had failed to get their hands on the League Winners’ Shield or the Hero ISL trophy raised concerns among the green and maroon faithful but just like the top teams do, ATK Mohun Bagan responded emphatically with an emphatic 5-2 win away at Kerala Blasters FC. 

Since then the Mariners have been unbeaten, winning two more games and drawing another as they have propelled themselves to the fourth position in the table. 

The hallmark of this revival has been the flair on display in the ATK Mohun Bagan ranks. They have scored eleven goals since the loss against Chennaiyin FC and have got their forwards among the goals. 

Dimitri Petratos, Manvir Singh and Liston Colaco have all been on the scoresheet this season and they are beginning to settle into the roles defined for them by Ferrando. 

“ATK Mohun Bagan’s strength lies within their wide players. That's the avenue for their goal scoring chances. Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh and now Dimitri Petratos are causing teams all sorts of problems,” former midfielder and Hero ISL commentator and expert Erik Paartalu noted. 

“Being flexible is something Juan Ferrando has instilled into their forward players, if one moves inside, one must go outside and so forth. It's very difficult to mark. Movement at speed equals big problems for defenders,” he added. 

New signing Petratos had led from the front scoring three goals and providing five assists so far this season. He has an assist to his name in every game that he has played in, making him the first player in Hero ISL history to give an assist in five straight matches. 

“Petratos understands his position on the pitch perfectly. He has been incredible not just in matches but also in training,” said head coach Ferrando when asked about his new striker. 

“It's very easy when you have players like him because he controls the spaces, he knows when is the moment to attack the space. It's amazing. Apart from his goals, I love how he controls the space and the timing of the press. I hope he continues in the same way as he is a very important player for this team,” the Mariners head coach added. 

The fluidity of the front three has meant the ATK Mohun Bagan have been able to drag defenders out of their positions allowing their midfielders to make runs into those spaces and add bodies in the box, something the likes of Joni Kauko and Hugo Boumous have done a lot this season. 

“Midfield runners like Joni Kauko arriving late in the box and adding an extra number in the box is causing problems as is the in-form Hugo Boumous who can basically skip past any player in the league with the ball at his feet. He is the key to open up the players in front of him,” Paartalu said. 

Much to Ferrando’s credit he has managed to get the best out of ATK Mohun Bagan’s attacking riches since the time he has stepped into the job. 

The Kolkata giants have scored 38 goals in 21 Hero ISL matches since he joined from FC Goa and have failed to score in just two matches. 

However, it’s the matters at the other end of the pitch that have prevented the Mariners from being utterly dominant in the league. 

Defensive frailties continue to haunt Ferrando’s side who have conceded seven goals in five matches. In his time as head coach of ATK Mohun Bagan, they have kept just six clean sheets in 21 league matches and have conceded 23 goals during that period. 

While the numbers aren’t alarming, it certainly a concern for a team looking to win every prize on offer especially when their rivals are faring much better defensively. 

ATK Mohun Bagan significantly strengthened their defence this season, signing Brendal Hamill, Florentin Pogba and Asish Rai but it’s not the personnel but balance between attack and defence that Ferrando hasn’t quite been able to achieve. 

“Defensively in midfield, they have Deepak Tangri going and making a nuisance of himself, then Lenny Rodrigues getting himself sent off as well. They haven't settled where to play Carl McHugh and that's probably the unsettling thing for Ferrando right now is that one midfield general is not an option in this line-up to clean up things consistently once the attack has broken down,” Paartalu analysed. 

“As we saw in the game at NorthEast United FC, they still need a little more work on set-pieces, Brendan Hamill has taken a lot of responsibility so far in that backline but they are still in need of more leaders around him to make sure they can grind clean sheets out,” he added. 

ATK Mohun Bagan’s defence will face a stern test against FC Goa who have had a good start to the season winning three out of their last five matches. They may be out to settle scores against their former head coach Ferrando but the Mariners have had FC Goa’s number in the Hero ISL. 

The Kolkata giants have never lost to the Gaurs and are the only team in the league to have avoided defeat against the two-time finalists. 

ATK Mohun Bagan aren’t far from being the finished article and if they can take inspiration from their past record against FC Goa and iron out their flaws, they will be a real force to be reckoned with in the Hero ISL. 

The green and maroon jersey brings with a lot of pressure to deliver and the game against in-form FC Goa would provide a good litmus test for ATK Mohun Bagan.

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