Kolkata: Former champions Atletico de Kolkata will start as underdogs when they clash against table toppers Mumbai City FC in the first of the Indian Super League football 2016 semifinals at Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in Kolkata on Saturday.
The inaugural edition champions have been the most consistent franchise since the league kick-started in 2014, making the semifinals in all the three editions, while this would be Mumbai’s maiden last-four appearance. But the Kolkata franchise’s home form this time around has been unflattering and of their two losses, one has come at home and against the same Mumbai team who scored through a Diego Forlan 79th minute strike.
A ‘sweet revenge’ will be on mind for Jose Molina’s wards who will look to make the home advantage count and seek to get into an advantageous position going into their second leg semifinals in Mumbai on December 13. But Molina must cut out the defensive bloomers to make their opportunities count at the adopted home venue where the results have not exactly gone the way they would have wanted. It’s the Uruguayan star forward Forlan, a Copa America and the Golden Ball winner of 2010 World Cup, who will stand in ATK’s way.
“It does not matter what happened in the league, a new tournament will begin tomorrow. Yes, we did well and finished on top, something that will give us confidence. We have arrived at this crucial stage in a good position. We have to keep doing that,” Forlan said on the eve of the match.
ATK have won just one match — against Delhi Dynamos FC — at Rabindra Sarobar, the least by any team at home this season and managed to score just eight points at home, the lowest by any of the four semi-finalists. Their tally of six goals at home is also the lowest by any team in the third season as their poor finishing and defensive errors have cost them heavily as they have conceded 14 goals compared to Mumbai’s eight.
Three of the last four goals ATK conceded at home have come because of defensive lapses.
Goalkeeper Debjit Majumder failed to collect the ball that allowed Hengbart to find CK Vineeth, who headed in to an empty net in their 1-1 draw against Kerala Blasters FC. Against NorthEast United, Sereno’s poor square-pass was intercepted by Velez who scored the opener while a handball saw them concede against FC Goa.
ATK’s poor goal conversion rate of 8.95 per cent at home is also the lowest in 2016, something that was highlighted in Juan Belencoso’s profligacy in their goalless drawn affair against FC Pune City in their previous outing. Mumbai, on the other hand, have been rock-solid in their defence, conceding the least number of goals — eight — in this edition as Lucian Goian has been the rock of Mumbai’s defence.
His defensive prowess and solid man-marking has made it difficult for the opposition to get past him, which in turn has helped the defence in staying organised. With 67 tackles, 31 interceptions and 101 clearances, Goian leads in all the three criteria to be the ‘Best Defender’ as his battle against ATK’s forward duo of Iain Hume (five goals) and Helder Postiga (two goals) will be one to watch out for on Saturday.