Preview: Hero ISL powerhouses Bengaluru FC & ATK Mohun Bagan look to trade on ‘familiarity’ in their AFC Cup opener

Two familiar rivals will be at each other’s throat when ATK Mohun Bagan take on fellow Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) outfit Bengaluru FC in their opening AFC Cup game in Group D (South Zone) at the National Football Stadium in Male (Maldives) on Wednesday.

ATK Mohun Bagan were the finalists in the 2020-21 Hero ISL, while Bengaluru FC finished 7th on the points table. The two times these teams played last season, the Mariners came out on top with 1-0 and 2-0 wins.

Both the teams have undergone a lot of change in terms of personnel since their last meeting in the Hero ISL. ATK Mohun Bagan have brought on board seven new players, while Bengaluru FC have acquired as many as nine new players as well as a new head coach in Marco Pezzaiuoli. 

On paper, ATK Mohun Bagan appear to have a stronger squad as they boast players like Roy Krishna, David Williams, new signing Hugo Boumous and Carl McHugh – all seasoned performers in the Hero ISL. Readers will remember that Williams (home) and Krishna (away) had scored in the Mariners’ wins against the Blues last season. Be that as it may, ATK Mohun Bagan haven’t played any competitive games since the final against Mumbai City FC on March 13 earlier this year. Pezzaiuoli’s men, on the other hand, have played twice, against Nepal’s Tribhuvan Army’s FC in April and a couple of days ago against Maldives’ Club Eagles. However, it must be said that Pezzaiuoli’s men weren’t entirely convincing in their win against the Eagles, particularly in defence where new-singings Yrondu Musavu-King and Alan Costa need to tighten up a bit.   

“Bengaluru has signed a number of new foreign footballers. The coaching staff has also changed. As a result, there has been a difference regarding the strength. The match will be very tough. The biggest thing is that we know each other and have played a lot of matches. If we want to win, we have to fight till the last minute," ATK Mohun Bagan head coach Antonio Lopez Habas, who has two Hero ISL trophies to his name, said ahead of the contest. 

‘‘The results of the past matches will remain history. In reality, every match is a new challenge. It is a new environment, a new field. We have to adapt quickly. The fate of the match will depend a lot on all this. Most of all, it's an international tournament. Everyone will desperately try to establish themselves,” he added.

Pezzaiuoli, meanwhile, made it clear that they were not considering themselves favourites against the Kolkata-based team. “We have new players, a new coach [referring to himself], a team and a new spirit. We have prepared well, but I think ATK Mohun Bagan is the favourite here. They invest a lot of money to win the trophy; they were in the final last year.

“ATK Mohun Bagan play a lot of long balls, they like to go for the second ball and press high up on the pitch. We're going to try and find a solution so that we can win the game,” he said in the pre-match press conference.

Squads:

ATK Mohun Bagan: Arindam Bhattacharja, Amrinder Singh, Pritam Kotal, Lenny Rodrigues, Subhasish Bose, Avilash Paul, Ashutosh Mehta, Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Deepak Tangri, Sumit Rathi, SK Sahil, Bidyananda Singh, Abhishek Suryavanshi, Kiyan Nassiri Giri, N Engson Singh, Ricky John Shabong, Roy Krishna and Carl McHugh, David Williams, Hugo Boumous

Bengaluru FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Sharon Padattil, Lara Sharma, Pratik Chaudhari, Wungngayam Muirang, Ajith Kumar, Ashique Kuruniyan, Parag Srivas, Yrondu Musavu-King, Alan Costa, Sarthak Golui, Biswa Darjee, Suresh Wangjam, Jayesh Rane, Danish Farooq, Rohit Kumar, Muhammad Inayath, Namgyal Bhutia, Ajay Chhetri, Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, Cleiton Silva, Roshan Singh Naorem, Siva Sakthi, Akashdeep Singh, Bidyashagar Singh, Leon Augustine, Harmanpreet Singh

Kick-off time: 4:30 pm (IST)

Live telecast: Star Sports Network

Streaming: Disney+ Hotstar VIP and JioTV

(Please note that Star Sports 3 will have Bengali commentary in West Bengal and Malayalam commentary in Kerala)

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