ATK travel to Bengaluru for their first semi-final since 2016
Defending Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions, Bengaluru FC will face-off against two-time champions, ATK FC in the first leg of their Hero ISL 2019-20 semi-final clash at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday. The Blues qualified for their third consecutive Hero ISL semi-finals after finishing third in the league standings. ATK finished a place above them, with 34 points from 18 matches. The meeting will the first between the two sides in the knockout stages of the competition.
Historically, Bengaluru have had the upper hand in the fixture but it was the Kolkata-based side which had the better results when the two clubs met in the league phase earlier in the season, beating the Blues 1-0 in Kolkata before fighting back to claim a point in a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture in Bengaluru.
Unlike most of the previous Hero ISL champions who faded away in the season after winning the title, the Blues are in the mix again and are fighting to become the first team in Hero ISL history to successfully defend their crown. Carles Cuadrat’s men had an initial wobble, picking up just three draws in their opening three fixtures. Since then, however, they have looked sharper and more settled, especially defensively.
Cuadrat’s men have the division’s best defence, having conceded just 13 goals from 18 matches. Juanan and Albert Serran have been brilliant since last season, while the likes of Nishu Kumar and Rahul Bheke have also stepped up their game this time around. The entire defensive unit will be expected to deliver come Sunday to keep the likes of Roy Krishna and Edu Garcia at bay.
On the attacking front, Cuadrat will be asking a lot more from his team. The Blues scored just 22 times in the league stage – the lowest tally among all the semi-finalists this term. Apart from Sunil Chhetri, no other Bengaluru player has scored more than two goals so far this term – something which will concern Cuadrat heading into the crunch semi-final ties.
The Blues have relied heavily on set-pieces for their goals this term, with 13 of the club's 22 goals so far having come from dead ball situations, which accounts for a massive 59.09% of their total goals tally. Five of the seven goals in their last five matches have also come from set-pieces, including Dimas Delgado’s pinpoint free-kick against ATK in their last match.
After a disappointing couple of seasons, the two-time champions are back in the knockout stages of the Hero ISL. Antonio Habas’ return as head coach has had a massive role behind this achievement, with the Spaniard’s tactical precision, both in the attacking and defensive fronts, helping the squad. The former champions conceded just 16 goals in 18 matches – the second-best defensive record in the division after Bengaluru. Their performances at the other end of the pitch haven’t been bad either, with Krishna and Co. smashing 33 goals in the league phase – the second-best tally in the division after table toppers FC Goa.
Interestingly, 21 of those goals have come in the second half of matches, demonstrating just how shrewd and patient Habas’ side has been, patiently waiting the opposition backline to tire and hitting them at opportune moments. Against a defensively resolute Bengaluru, ATK will once again be relying on those traits, whilst expecting an error-free performance from goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja. Despite keeping nine clean sheets so far, the 30-year-old has been prone to making silly mistakes periodically, which have gone on to cost his side.
Coming to the attacking end of the pitch, Habas will be relying heavily on the services of Krishna. The Fijian has scored 14 of the club’s 33 goals this season and has been phenomenal throughout. Only Bartholomew Ogbeche, Ferran Corominas, Nerijus Valskis and Hugo Boumous have a better goals per minute ratio than the prolific ATK striker.
Bengaluru FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Albert Serran, Juanan, Rahul Bheke, Nishu Kumar, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado, Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Deshorn Brown
ATK FC: Arindam Bhattacharja (GK), Pritam Kotal, Victor Mongil, Sumit Rathi, Prabir Das, Michael Soosairaj, Javier Hernandez, Armando Sosa Pena, Edu Garcia, Jayesh Rane, Roy Krishna
Did you know?
- Bengaluru FC have lost only 1 match at home this season. (joint lowest in league)
- The last time ATK reached the knockout stage was in 2016, a season in which they eventually won the trophy.
- Bengaluru FC have scored 8 goals from corners this season. (highest in league)
Live Broadcast Schedule:
Hero ISL 2019-20 Semi-final 2 Leg 1: Bengaluru FC vs ATK FC
Date: March 1 (Sunday)
Time: 7:30 PM onwards
Channels: Star Sports Network
Streaming: Hotstar and Jio TV
Which team will seize the initiative going into next week’s second leg tie?
- Bengaluru FC
- ATK FC
Leave your choice in the comments below.