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Michael Soosairaj to Habas: Talking Points from ATKMB’s Win

While ATK Mohun Bagan’s 1-0 maiden win in the ISL 2020-21 opener over Kerala Blasters was exactly what the players and staff needed to get going after months of football inaction, the untimely injury to Michael Soosairaj spoiled the party.

Coach Antonio Lopez Habas, however, will have a lot to worry about after yesterday’s win that has not only given ATKMB a win, a clean sheet and three points, but also a room for improvement.

 

OVERCOMING RING RUST

The clumsy and erratic first-half display at Goa’s GMC Stadium on Friday was expected by many. With none of the ISL side getting enough pre-season training or practice matches in the build-up to the tournament, a slow and underconfident start characterised the ISL 2020-21 kick-off. However, the way Habas’ men dealt with it was impressive. While the Tuskers kept 68% of the possession – most of it in opponents’ third – the experienced likes of Edu Garcia, Javi Hernandez and Roy Krishna conserved their energy.

The humid conditions in Goa were energy-sapping but ATKMB’s smart pressing allowed Krishna to react the quickest at a Kerala defence error, which led to the winning goal. The quick-thinking was more evident after David Williams and Manvir Singh came off the bench. Most of ATKMB’s 12 fouls were committed at the attacking third that disrupted Kerala’s play and allowed their opponents to regroup time and again.

 

THE MICHAEL SOOSAIRAJ CONUNDRUM

Losing one of your most talented players early in the season could be the worst nightmare for any coach. Though the extent of Soosairaj’s injury is still not known, Habas’ real concern would be to find his replacement. The inside forward brings a different kind of quality to ATKMB, something no other player in the squad offers. After Subhasish Bose was introduced in the first half, ATKMB lacked creativity from that flank and Habas eventually had to push Edu Garcia as a wide forward to sharpen his side’s offensive intent.

Using Soosairaj as a wing-back, which requires a player to take intense workload for the entire 90 minutes, has been questioned before primarily because of his playing style. Soosairaj’s strength has been his acceleration, which makes him susceptible to hamstring injuries as well and Habas would need to manage the talent well. For the next match though, ATKMB fans might see Sumit Rathi filling the hole on the left flank.

 

UNDERSTANDING ISL

If Spanish football is dominated by silky passes and Germany football with sheer pace, Indian football has always seen physicality as an important element in its progress. And while it is unclear if other managers rate this aspect as significantly as Antonio Habas, physical dominance was the primary reason ATKMB won the match yesterday. From Roy Krishna to Carl McHugh and Tiri, ATKMB are filled with well-built players, who dominate aerially and put their bodies in the line time and again. The midfield pairing of McHugh and Pronay Halder was instrumental in making Kerala Blasters’ tactics ineffective while the defensive trio of Tiri, Pritam Kotal and Sandesh Jhingan did the rest. Habas’ playing style might seem untidy and aggressive to many, but it is the most effective way of winning the Indian Super League.

 

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