Khalid Jamil’s NorthEast United will face title favourites ATK Mohun Bagan in a tense encounter in the second semi-final of the ISL Season 2020/21. Reigning champions Mohun Bagan will also be looking towards securing a spot in the final to churn out a victory to land the Kolkata side their 4th ISL trophy. ATK also hold the upper hand when it comes to experience and quality in depth between the two sides.
NorthEast on the other hand booked their spot in the last minute by grabbing all 3 points in each of their last two matches. For Khalid Jamil who took over the coaching role of NEUFC from Gerard Nus, this playoff position is more than what they probably hoped for.
NUFC finished the season with 33 points edging past Hyderabad FC with just 2 points. They finished the league campaign without a defeat in 10 successive games. This is only their 2nd semi-final since the start of their campaign in the ISL.
ATK Mohun Bagan
ATK, which merged with Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan to form ATK Mohun Bagan at the end of last summer managed to hold on to their form in the new season. However, a draw and a loss in their last two matches saw them leave the top spot to Mumbai City FC. A 2-2 draw against 10 man Hyderabad and a 2-0 demoralising defeat to Mumbai City turned the tides against ATK.
Their pragmatic nature of falling into defence, trying to sit back as a unit failed in both these matches for them. With lesser touches and a lack of attacking instinct instilled in this kind of play, ATK failed to score when they created opportunities.
Even the arrival of Marcelinho should have enabled them to be more aggressive, but Habas was focussed more upon points than the game itself. However, the quality of the squad has placed them above the rest having the best defensive performances of the season.
Their early success under a 3-5-2 formation was soon shifted to 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 in recent games. Both these formations failed to trigger the success 3-5-2 contributed early on for ATK. Even Fijian national Roy Krishna’s form showed how formidable opponents they were early on this season.
Krishna sublimely began the season by scoring, as he bagged 5 goals in the opening 6 games, but then started to struggle with these changing formations. Even though he still managed to top the goalscoring chart with 14 goals by the end of the 20th game.
Another interesting player who faired well under Habas’s system is Arindam Bhattacharya, who managed an impressive 10 clean sheets this season. Not to mention, an excellent display of defensive play from Sandesh Jhingan and Manvir Singh, showed the quality of Indian players in the mix. Mohun Bagan also has the best defence so far this season, only conceding 15 goals.
For NorthEast, two crucial fixtures against two struggling sides were more than enough to qualify for the playoff. East Bengal and Kerala Blasters showed little resistance to deny NorthEast a title shot, as they both went down 1-2 and 2-0 respectively to Khalid Jamil and his men. Under him, NEUFC have bagged 6 wins and 3 draws in 9 matches.
NorthEast were going through a poor phase under Gerard Nus when Jamil took over. Branded a ‘defensive coach’ at Mumbai FC, Jamil brought a different brand of football to NEUFC. His unparalleled calibre in man-management had further helped the club get the maximum out of many players.
Several Indian players have been in form ever since Jamil’s arrival. Imran Khan who replaced injured Gallego impressed Jamil. Also, players like Suhair and Lalengmawia managed to earn the trust of their new coach with a series of good performances. Not to mention, foreign players like Gallego, Deshorn Brown and Luis Machado have excelled under him as well.
Interestingly both sides shared the spoils earlier this season. ATK won the first meeting 2-1 and NEUFC managed to grab a 2-0 victory later on in their next meeting.
NorthEast United vs ATK Mohun Bagan (semi-final, First Leg ): March 6, 7:30 PM IST
ATK Mohun Bagan vs NorthEast United (semi-final, Second Leg): March 9, 7:30 PM IST