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ATK Mohun Bagan Play for a Point, Not To Prove But To Gather

Leslie Xavier |
Antonio Habas' ATK Mohun Bagan have made it a habit of scoring late goals and holding out slender leads. But against Chennaiyin FC they were lucky to escape unscathed, and no matter their coach’s assertions it isn’t really the players who are at fault.
Arindam Bhattacharja of ATK MB

ATK Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja makes a save against Chennaiyin FC in their Indian Super League match on Tuesday (Pic: ISL, Twitter).


ATK Mohun Bagan coach Antonio Habas stated his philosophy pretty nonchalantly after the 0-0 draw against Chennaiyin FC -- laced in pragmatism, rooted in boredom. But it does not matter, for it earns him points. Indian Super League’s (ISL’s) very own Jose Mourinho, they call him. Parking the Kolkata metro bogie in front of goal is what he is known for. And he does it for the digits in the last column of the table. The one that denotes the points earned. It matters most. There is a reason why ATKMB, the defending champions, are top of the ISL standings, ahead of Mumbai City FC, albeit having played an additional match.

The draws matter too, especially when the side was not playing well. And ATKMB were not playing well, said Habas.

“Happy with the point but our performance is not good and the best chance was to draw the match. I am not happy with the performance today,” he said as one was left to wonder whether Habas was happy after any of the eight matches his side has played this year. They played almost the same way in all of them, even the results were almost the same in the five wins and two draws. 

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Habas added that he was happy with the players’ effort but not the performance -- the fine difference between the two is intriguing and interesting. 

"I am happy with the effort of my team today but not with the performance. I understand it is not possible to play good all the time but we need to do better,” he said before stating his philosophy -- the point in winning a point. 

“When you can't win, it's better not to lose, it's clear. Sometimes teams play fantastic but don't win. And this was the match today," he added.

Habas was helped quite a bit in earning that point by his goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja, who made six spectacular saves through the course of the match to deny Chennaiyin and earn his sixth clean sheet in the league. 

Habas was also lucky that Chennaiyin lost their skipper and midfield creative engine -- Rafael Crivellaro -- to an ankle injury. Without Crivellaro, Chennaiyin loses a bit of their attacking verve.

A nasty tackle from Pronay Halder in the 65th minute sidelined Crivellaro. Coach Habas, almost on cue, took out Halder and Manvir Singh from the mix following the forced substitution of Crivellaro, and got in attacking options -- Jayesh Rane and Prabir Das. Deepak Tangri replaced Crivellaro. 

It was clear that Halder, whose primary job in the match was to shadow Crivellaro, had done his job and had suddenly become expendable (Tangri is no Crivellaro) in favour of the need of the last half an hour of play -- goal-scoring opportunities. 

Just that, ATK Mohun Bagan are very reluctant goal-getters. It is almost as though they are stuck in defensive gear for large parts of matches they have played. No, almost the entire part of the matches they have played. One wonders what they would have done if they did not have Roy Krishna up front to convert the half chances. The Fijian did get a couple of half chances through the course of the match, when he managed to slip behind the Chennaiyin defense and his marker -- Enes Sipovic -- but he could not convert those.  

In the tactical chess, Chennaiyin coach Csaba Laszlo was ready for Krishna and the slight tweak in the defensive line helped them keep the Fijian at bay. Sipovic explained it after the match.

"He's (Krishna is) a great player. He has the ball and next moment, he is behind you. We stayed a little bit deeper so that he doesn't have time and chance to come behind us. Today, we managed very well to keep Krishna away from goal," the central defender said.

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Laszlo, though, had not played for a draw or a point like his counterpart. He was distraught that in every statistics column his side had the advantage on Tuesday and complimented Bhattacharja for the amazing game he had under the bar for ATKMB. Contrary to Habas’ emotions, Laszlo felt his boys performed well, and not just put effort. The result may have been unfair, it indeed was, but the beauty for the Hungarian coach lay in seeing the players execute the tactics he laid out for them for the day. So much so that he said he saw glimpses of European football on the pitch from his side.

"I just watched the statistics and we had more ball possession and seven shots on target but we didn't score,” said Laszlo. “But I think I should be happy with my team's performance and they were playing after two days against a great team. 

“Must compliment ATKMB as well as it was a good football game and fans must have enjoyed,” he added. “We could have finished the year with a victory but if the goalkeeper from the opposition gets the best player it tells the story. But tactically, it was a great game from my team and they understood what I wanted. It was more European tactically than Indian.”

But the “point” is -- pun intended -- it was a 0-0 draw. 

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