After four months of action-packed drama, the 2022-23 season of the Indian Super League comes to an end on Saturday as Bengaluru FC take on ATK Mohun Bagan at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa. This weekend’s football carnival is unique in the recent history of the Indian Super League, with both teams making it to the final on the back of remarkable turnaround stories mid-way through the season. Bengaluru FC are the favourites to prevail in the final given their extraordinary form, but ATK Mohun Bagan’s ability to secure victories on the big stage keep them in contention.
Here’s our preview of the Indian Super League 2022-23:
Bengaluru’s Fairytale Run
Heading into their first game of 2023, Bengaluru FC were a side overrun with despair and desperation. With just three wins in 12 games, the Blues were ninth in the league. The club were a shadow of their former self, losing fixtures with narrow margins despite doing nothing majorly wrong. The issue was that Bengaluru did little right in the first-half of the tournament – the attacking unit was unwilling to score goals, and the defensive unit was unable to stop the opponents from scoring.
Despite dominating possession in every single game in 2022, the club failed to translate the advantage onto the scorecard. The good news was that Bengaluru were not NorthEast United or Jamshedpur. They were not outplayed in any game – apart from a couple of games, all their losses were by a one-goal margin. When Alan Costa scored in injury time of their fixture against NorthEast United, the team started believing in themselves.
Simon Grayson took the cue and made vital changes – with the team giving up its obsession with possessing the ball. Sunil Chhetri was dropped from the Starting XI, with Sivasakthi Naryanan pushed ahead. This brought the best out of both players – while the youngster had the freedom to score at will, the veteran Indian skipper played with hunger in the few minutes he was on the field. Javi Hernandez was pushed back, converting the team from 4-3-3 to 3-4-1-2.
The results were on display – Bengaluru won nine straight games to reach the semi-finals. Sunil Chhetri continued to be the man of the moment for the Blues in the knockout rounds, scoring crucial goals that saw them reach the final for the first time since 2019. A slip-up in the second leg of the semi-finals notwithstanding, Bengaluru are in incredible form, and they will enter the fixture tomorrow with the odds in favour of them.
Bengaluru Predicted XI (3-4-1-2): Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Roshan Naorem, Sandesh Jhingan, Alan Costa, Prabir Das, Parag Shrivas, Rohit Kumar, Suresh Wangjam, Javier Hernandez, Roy Krishna, Siva Narayanan.
The Perseverance of ATK Mohun Bagan
ATK Mohun Bagan are the giants of Indian football – few clubs have the financial heft or the massive fan support that the Bengal side built up over the years. They finished as runners-up in 2021 and secured a berth in the semi-finals of the Indian Super League last season. So before the season started, ATK were hot favourites. Then came the humiliating drubbing from the AFC Cup, which the club penned huge hopes on. Conceding two quick goals in injury time ended their Asian campaign on a sour note, and dashed their confidence entering the domestic league season.
ATK Mohun Bagan’s last season was defined by their aggressive brand of football – high press, risky counter-attacks and a penchant to score goals. Juan Ferrando was the leader of this revolution at the club, implementing Sir Alex Ferguson’s “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles” mantra by the book. But during the current season, he threw that strategy out the window. The focus shifted to keeping possession, ensuring discipline on the field and playing traditional football that reminded ATK’s fans of Antonio Lopez Habas.
Compared to the 37 goals they scored last season, ATK ended this season’s league stage with just 24 goals. Only East Bengal, Jamshedpur and NorthEast United scored fewer goals. But where the Mariners succeeded is in their defence – conceding just 17 goals thanks to the herculean efforts of their captain Pritam Kotal and Slavko Damjanovic. At the front, Dimitri Petratos and Hugo Boumous did most of the scoring – with the former being the only player in the list of top goalscorers in the tournament.
Despite reaching the final, ATK Mohun Bagan still have work left to do on their tactics. They failed to find a breakthrough against Hyderabad in both legs of the semi-final even though they had plenty of shots at the goal – a worrying sign for a team that rarely creates scoring opportunities. Pritam Kotal will have his task cut out tomorrow, as he has to prevent both Sivasakthi Naryanan and Sunil Chhetri from threatening the goalpost.
Juan Ferrando has stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation since the start of the tournament and is unlikely to change it for the game on Saturday.
ATK Mohun Bagan Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Vishal Kaith, Subhasish Bose, Pritam Kotal, Brendan Hamill, Asish Rai, Glan Martins, Carl McHugh, Federico Gallego, Manvir Singh, Hugo Boumous, Dimitri Petratos.
ATK Mohun Bagan won three of the last five encounters between both sides, with one match ending in a draw. But the Blues won the most recent fixture in February, with Javi Hernandez and Roy Krishna scoring in the second-half at the Salt Lake Stadium. All five games have seen at least a goal on the scoreboard, with a 3-3 draw between the two giants leading the pack.
While Bengaluru have both confidence and momentum, ATK Mohun Bagan have the experience of playing on the big stage. They also have more titles to their name – three, compared to just one for Bengaluru.
What To Expect
It is clear from the semi-finals that Bengaluru will be the side playing for a win from the start, while ATK Mohun Bagan will look to take the game deep into the night. Bengaluru’s attacking prowess, led by the likes of Sunil Chhetri and Javi Hernandez will be tested by the defensive mettle of the Mariners.
Whichever side wins the game will have a reason to celebrate a remarkable turnaround in fortunes and the Indian Super League will have a fairytale story in its history books by Sunday.
When: Saturday, 18th February 2023, 7:30 PM.
Where: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Fatorda Stadium), Goa.
Where to Watch: The final of the Indian Super League will be telecasted live on the Star Sports Network. The fixture will also be streamed live on Disney+ Hotstar.
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