ATK, Pune lock horns with crucial three points on the line

Two-time champions ATK will face off against bottom-placed FC Pune City in Match 33 of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 on Saturday. While ATK will be looking for a win at home to stay relevant in the race for a playoff spot, Pune will be desperate for all three points in order to claw their way out from the bottom of the table and keep their chances of making it to the top four alive, at least on paper.

ATK will have the edge on Pune considering current form, but traditionally the Stallions have been the bogey team for the Kolkata side. The two teams have squared off eight times in the past, with Pune claiming victory on five occasions and ATK getting the better of them only once.

ATK

After a terrible start to the season which saw them losing their first two fixtures, Steve Coppell's men embarked on a mini-revival of sorts, picking up seven points in their next three matches. However, the purple patch came to a staggering halt when they met the mighty Bengaluru FC in their sixth match. Despite taking the lead, ATK ended up losing 2-1. With the struggling Pune up next, Coppell and Co. will be eager to get back to winning ways and tick off the all-important three points from their list.

The defence has been a major area of concern for ATK this season. Despite boasting of experienced defenders like John Johnson, Gerson Vieira, Sena Ralte and Aiborlang Khongjee and a head coach known for his defensive organisation skills, the Kolkata team is yet to register a single clean sheet to their name this season. Interestingly, the only other team which has failed to shut out their opponents even once this season is Pune. The ATK defence's Achilles heel this season has been their inability to deal with set pieces. Out of the eight goals they have conceded so far, five have come about from dead ball situations (three free-kicks and two corners).

Coming to ATK's attack, the team has only managed to score six goals in as many outings - a tally which hardly does justice to ATK's abundance of attacking talent going forward. Manuel Lanzarote has been effective at best but is still far off from the class associated with him, while the likes Everton Santos have been mere shadows of their past selves. Coppell will also be missing Kalu Uche, who is nursing a muscle injury and has flown back to Barcelona for treatment. The targetman will be out till January at least and ATK are yet to find a temporary replacement.

However, ATK fans can take heart with the emergence of Komal Thatal. The youngster's energy on the field and direct running have been a joy to watch and the 18-year-old has already cemented his place in the starting XI with his performances so far. Coppell would be hoping his star attackers hit their stride sooner than later and a match up against the bottom-of-the-table side may just present the perfect opportunity.

Here’s a look at ATK’s current season in numbers:

FC Pune City

FC Pune City have had a nightmarish start to Hero ISL 2018-19, picking up just two points from a possible 18 in their first six matches. With chances of making it to the top four slipping through their fingers fast, interim coach Pradyum Reddy and his men will be desperate for all three points to keep themselves alive in the competition. However, poor form won't be the only hurdle in the Stallions' way in the match against ATK. The team will go into the fixture without star playmaker Marcelo Pereira, who will be suspended for the match for a red card offence in their last outing against Chennaiyin FC. Marcelo's absence will be a huge blow for Pune against ATK, especially considering their opponent's obvious vulnerability to set-pieces. Marcelo has proven himself to be one of the best dead ball specialists in the Hero ISL over the past couple of seasons. Reddy will also miss the services of striker Diego Carlos, who is serving an extended suspension for his sending off due to a dangerous tackle on FC Goa's Seriton Fernandes during Pune's match against the Gaurs on 28th October. Midfielder Marko Stankovic, too, will be unavailable for selection as he is yet to recover fully from the injury he sustained in the match against Kerala Blasters FC.

The suspensions limit Reddy's options up front, and he will, in all likelihood, have to rely on out-of-form forward Emiliano Alfaro to be the focal point of his attack on the night. Alfaro has managed to score once this season, but has botched two penalty kicks and has an unenviable shot accuracy of 33.33 % this season, despite attempting almost 2.5 shots per game. The Uruguayan was dropped from the starting XI in Pune’s last match, but is expected to make a comeback considering the lack of options up front.

The state of the defence, too, will do little to put Pune fans at ease. As mentioned above, Pune are the only side besides ATK who have failed to register a single clean sheet this season. The lack of pace in the backline makes the Stallions' defence particularly susceptible to fast counterattacks, something ATK will try and take advantage of with Thatal and Balwant Singh's pace out wide.

Here’s a look at Pune’s current season in numbers:

PROBABLE LINE-UPS:

ATK: Arindam Bhattacharja (GK), Aiborlang Khongjee, Gerson Vieira, John Johnson, Ricky Lallawmawma, Pronay Halder, El Maimouni Noussair, Everton Santos, Komal Thatal, Manuel Lanzarote (C), Balwant Singh.

FC Pune City:  Kamaljit Singh (GK), Gurtej Singh (C), Matt Mills, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Martin Diaz, Adil Khan, Jonathan Vila, Sarthak Golui, Ashique Kuruniyan, Robin Singh, Emiliano Alfaro.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Out of the 8 goals conceded by ATK this season, 5 have been conceded from set-pieces, the most by any team this season.
  • The last time FC Pune City played ATK in Kolkata they won 4-1 thanks to a brace from Marcelo.
  • 3 of ATK’s 6 goals this season have come from counter attacks.

FANSPEAK

Which team will bag the three points from the match?

  • ATK
  • FC Pune City

 Catch the match live on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio TV from 7:30 PM.

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