It was expected to be a battle of wits between two astute tacticians Antonio Lopez Habas and Carles Cuadrat as old foes ATK Mohun Bagan met Bengaluru FC for the first time in the Indian Super League (ISL) on Monday.
A tactical match was always on cards as both teams prefer to play in a pragmatic manner more often than not. But Antonio Habas surprised everyone including Carles Cuadrat as ATK Mohun Bagan took an attacking approach right from the off.
Habas deployed his side in an attacking 4-3-3 formation with David Williams, Roy Krishna and Manvir starting in the front three and Spanish attacking midfielder playing an advanced role. Pronay Halder and Carl McHugh stayed deep in midfield to provide the balance.
In the absence of Javier Hernandez, Edu Garcia was assigned the responsibility of dictating the game down the middle and the former Bengaluru man did not disappoint. The Spaniard was the focal point of most of ATK Mohun Bagan’s attack and played a pivotal role.
The trio up front were a constant threat David Williams and Manvir operating freely on the flanks. Both Harmanjot Khabra and Rahul Bheke had a forgettable outing as they failed to keep a check on Williams and Manvir.
The Australian forward had been struggling to find his best form this season, due to fitness issues, but he decided to light up in a big game. David Williams was ATK’s saviour in last season’s second leg semifinal clash and this time he proved to be ATK Mohun Bagan’s knight in shining armour against a team Habas considers to be one of the best in the league.
Bengaluru FC are known for their quick movements down the flanks but thanks to some efficient defending by Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose, Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh were kept quiet for most of the game. In fact, Cuadrat was forced to bench Udanta at the beginning of the second half as the India international failed to have an influence in the game. The Blues also missed the swiftness of Ashique Kuruniyan on the left side as Rahul Bheke was nowhere close to the Malayali player in terms of agility.
Cleiton Silva and Dimas Delgado failed to make an impact in the game. Credit must be given to McHugh and Halder for now allowing any open space to the Blues duo.
ATK Mohun Bagan’s defending has been top-notch right from the first game but they did not look fluent. But this match showed that Habas’ side are capable of playing an attacking style of play. They did so well in the first half before playing defensively in the second half. It also helped that Garcia, Williams and Krishna were all good on the ball and were able to negotiate tight spaces with ease.
The ATKMB players are getting fitter with every passing game and this performance would have pleased Habas.