ATK, Chennaiyin chase third title with ‘Hero ISL’s most successful’ tag up for grabs
Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 is all set to conclude with ATK FC and Chennaiyin FC clashing for the title in the final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Saturday. Both outfits are two-time former champions and will be on the hunt for an unprecedented third coronation, and in the process, claim the exclusive rights to the tag of Hero ISL’s most successful club.
Despite their rich history in the Hero ISL, the two will be facing each other for the first time in a final. In their two previous meetings earlier in the season, ATK won the fixture in Chennai 1-0, while Chennaiyin registered a 3-1 away win in Kolkata in mid-February.
Despite having a mountain to climb in the last hour of their semi-final second leg clash with Bengaluru FC, Antonio Habas’ side found a way through to progress to the final – a testament to the kind of mentality and belief instilled in his players by the Spaniard since his move back to the club. The Kolkata-based outfit scored thrice in an hour to end Bengaluru’s dream of retaining their crown. Full-back Prabir Das played a defining role in the match, assisting two of ATK’s three goals on the night.
Prabir has been an integral part of Habas’ system this season, which employs a three-man defence with two advanced wing backs. He has made the right wingback role his own and has raked up some solid defensive stats. However, it has been while going forward where the 26-year-old has truly stood out. He has already provided five assists this season – the most by a defender till now – and his tally of 64 attempted crosses is unmatched in the division. He has also created 27 chances this season – the most by any defender in Hero ISL 2019-20. Blessed with pace and terrific crossing ability, Prabir’s forward runs have been one of the biggest outlets for this counter-attacking ATK side and his impact on Saturday will be crucial for ATK. With Chennaiyin’s wealth of attacking threats, Prabir’s ability to help out John Johnson, Sumit Rathi and Pritam Kotal in defence will also be paramount.
Besides their dramatic entry into the final, another big positive which came out of the second leg semi-final tie against Bengaluru was David Williams’ return to form. After a rampaging start to the campaign, the Australian sustained an injury and fizzled out mid-season. Since his return, Williams had looked a shadow of his former self heading into last Sunday’s match but came alive when the team needed him the most. He played an important role in ATK’s opener and then winning and converting a penalty for their second before wrapping up the affair with the all-important third goal with a thumping header. Williams’ return to form will also provide a big boost to his strike partner and the league’s top scorer Roy Krishna, with whom the Australian enjoys almost a telepathic understanding. Krishna will also have his secondary agenda to serve going into the final, wherein he will look to secure the Golden Boot award at the expense of Chennaiyin’s star striker Nerijus Valskis, who, with 14 goals to his name, is just a goal behind the Fijian in the standings.
The midfield, meanwhile, presents Habas with an interesting selection dilemma. The Spaniard opted to use Edu Garcia, Michael Regin and Javier Hernandez in the middle of the park during the semis but given Chennaiyin’s attacking prowess which needs to be dealt with carefully come Saturday, the veteran head coach may be tempted to use a more defensively-astute Armando Sosa Pena or Victor Mongil in place of Garcia to add more steel in the position. Habas’ big match pedigree will be another big factor in the match, with the 62-year-old already having won the title back in 2014 during his first stint with ATK.
Irrespective of the result on Saturday, the Marina Machans can take immense pride what from what they have accomplished already in Hero ISL 2019-20. After the first six games of their campaign, Chennaiyin were languishing in ninth with just five points to their name. The disappointing run led to the appointment of Owen Coyle as the club’s new head coach – a massive turning point in their season. Formulating an attacking philosophy aimed at getting the best of the front four, Coyle turned the club’s season on its head as he helped them reach the final in emphatic fashion. Since the 53-year-old’s appointment, Chennaiyin have scored a whopping 34 times in 14 games – the second-best tally in the division during that period.
While the foreigners like Nerijus Valskis, Rafael Crivellaro, Lucian Goian and Andre Schembri have played a defining role in the miraculous turnaround, the contributions of Indian stars like Lallianzuala Chhangte, Anirudh Thapa, Edwin Vanspaul have been immense as well. Chhangte, especially, has been sensational, scoring seven goals so far – the second-highest tally by any Indian in the division after Sunil Chhetri. Additionally, the 22-year-old recently became the first Indian to score in both legs of the semi-finals, as he was on target against the Gaurs in both matches.
Defensively, Chennaiyin have shown promise in recent weeks but still have the tendency of conceding late in matches. They’ve conceded a massive 10 goals in the last 15 minutes of matches this season – the highest of any team. Against the likes of Krishna and Co, who have scored 11 goals in the same period this season, Coyle will demand more concentration from the likes of Goian, Eli Sabia, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Laldinliana Renthlei to curb the worrying trend. On the other hand, Chennaiyin, too, are adept at scoring late goals and fans can expect some late drama in the match.
The scoring burden will mostly fall on the front four of Valskis, Crivellaro, Schembri and Chhangte although Thapa, too, has proven just as effective at the attacking end in recent matches. Valskis, who will be trying to chase down Krishna for the coveted Golden Boot, will also be extra motivated to perform on the final night.
ATK FC: Arindam Bhattacharja (GK), Pritam Kotal, John Johnson, Sumit Rathi, Prabir Das, Michael Soosairaj, Javier Hernandez, Jayesh Rane, Michael Regin, Edu Garcia, David Williams, Roy Krishna
Chennaiyin FC: Vishal Kaith, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Lucian Goian, Eli Sabia, Laldinliana Renthlei, Anirudh Thapa, Edwin Vanspaul, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Rafael Crivellaro, Andre Schembri, Nerijus Valskis
Did you know?
- In Hero ISL history, the team which defeated FC Goa in the semis, has never lost in the final.
- This season, ATK FC have conceded only 4 goals in the last 15 minutes of matches (lowest in league) while Chennaiyin FC conceded 10 goals in the same period. (joint highest in league)
- Both the teams have scored 11 goals in the last 15 minutes of matches.
- If ATK win the final, Antonio Lopez Habas will be the first head coach to lead his team to two Hero ISL trophies.
Live Broadcast Schedule:
Hero ISL 2019-20 Final: ATK FC vs Chennaiyin FC
Date: March 14 (Saturday)
Time: 7:30 PM onwards
Channels: Star Sports Network
Streaming: Hotstar and Jio TV
Which team will end Saturday with a record third title?
- ATK FC
- Chennaiyin FC
Leave your match predictions in the comments below.
Check out the Hero ISL 2019-20 final Matchday Programme here.