Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) host Mumbai City FC in Kolkata on Saturday in a semi-final that is as crucial, if not more, than the one which set the Indian Super League (ISL 2016) going three seasons ago. This is the first time Mumbai City FC have made the semi-finals, something ATK have made a habit of.
So, asked whether Mumbai City FC being favourites for this double-leg tie, coach Alexandre Guimaraes said: “Atletico de Kolkata have been there two times, so I think I have answered your question,” said Guimaraes.
ATK would hope they can tide over the injury to Arnab Mondal. Molina didn’t specify what happened to the India central defender, who has played 997 minutes this term being rested only twice but it was learnt that he has a calf problem. Mondal broke down before training on Friday and his absence could be the one detail that significantly alters how Atletico de Kolkata line-up against the table-toppers for whom everyone is fit and available.
For one, it could mean a central defensive pairing of Tiri and Henrique Soreno, who have started together only in two games, both against Delhi Dynamos. Two foreigners at the back could also mean one from the attacking trio of Iain Hume, Javi Lara and Sameehg Doutie missing from the starting list.
A team that has played eight draws, ATK, therefore, would not be too unhappy with another against a side for whom Sunil Chhetri is still looking for his first ISL3 goal, has Sony Norde and Diego Forlan, who got a hattrick against Kerala Blasters. Also, at eight, Mumbai City FC have conceded the least number of goals among semi-finalists. They go into this game with four clean sheets, meaning former ATK goalie Amrinder Singh is yet to ship a goal in ISL3.
Both Guimaraes and ATK coach Jose Molina agreed that this semi-final could be decided in Mumbai. “We need to keep calm because there is another match on Tuesday,” said Molina.
They may be playing the table-toppers but Molina sounded irked when asked if he thought Mumbai City FC go into this match as favourites. “I don’t lose time thinking who are favourites because favourites don’t always go to the final,” he said.
ATK would know all about that. Last season, despite winning three of the four games against Chennaiyin FC, ATK exited in the penultimate round.
ATK have also spoken about the lack of buzz at the Rabindra Sarobar stadium with Molina pointing out that the matches they have won on the road --- against Kerala Blasters, North East United and FC Goa --- have come in stadia with the best atmosphere. Forlan said playing at a small stadium at home means they won’t have any problems with that.
By Saturday evening, we will know whether there’s more to Forlan’s comment than merely riling up opponents.