Naven Venkat discusses three talking points about the Indian Super League game that finished Pune City 3-0 ATK
Playing the first home game of the second half of the season, FCPC took on bottom dwellers ATK in a dull, one sided fixture with the home side taking all three points courtesy of goals from Adil Khan, Diego Carlos, and Rohit Krishnan.
FCPC (4-4-2): Vishal Kaith; Adil Khan, Rafa Lopez, Gurtej Singh, Sahil Panwar; Jewel Raja, Rohit Kumar, Jonatan Lucca, Diego Carlos; Marcelinho, Emiliano Alfaro.
ATK (4-3-3): Debjit Majumder; Prabir Das, Tom Thorpe, Jordi, Keegan Pereira; Rupert Nongrum, Conor Thomas, Ryan Taylor; Zequinha, Hitesh Sharma; Jayesh Rane.
Vladica Grujic took charge one last time before Ranko Popovic’s imminent arrival back on the touchline following his ban and set up his side in a classic 4-4-2 with the midfield line flat and the strikers slightly staggered with Marcelinho playing behind Alfaro. For the second game running, 18-year-old Sahil Panwar was handed a start at left-back and Adil Khan slotted in at right-back in place of Sarthak who was returning from injury. FCPC dominated possession from the get go and thrilled their fans with splendid one-touch passing especially in the final third of the pitch. Lined up in a compact 4-3-3 by manager Teddy Sheringham, ATK looked to contain Marcelinho who had been on a tear for the past few games. Sloppy, high-risk passing was the ATK modus operandi as they struggled to get past FCPC’s well drilled midfield and defence.
Rohit took advantage of Tebar’s suspension to put in a superb performance which he capped off with a stunning second-half effort. The majority of Pune’s attacks came from excellent interplay and off-ball movement with Diego Carlos proving to be a menace on the left for Pune. ATK had placed their full-backs asymmetrically with Prabir Das staying in an advanced position to assist the attackers as Keegan Pereira stayed back to build play from his side’s goal kicks along with his two center-backs. The midfield trio of ATK all took turns to receive and play out the ball from defence but were terribly sloppy with it in the face of aggressive pressing by Alfaro and Rohit. The plan for ATK seemed to be launching balls to Zequinha to work his magic in the final third or to Prabir Das and use his advanced crossing ability to generate chances. This high-risk approach, although imprudent, set up the best chances for ATK in the first half forcing Jewel Raja to come up with a vital clearance off the line following a goalmouth scramble. It also led to a fierce Zequinha shot that severely tested Kaith in goal towards the latter stages of the half.
ATK however cracked under wave after wave of Pune pressure as the towering Adil Khan thumped in his second goal of the season following a gently floated corner from his captain at the half-hour mark. The plan to play Prabir Das compromised ATK’s defence as Diego Carlos ran amok down the left in the first half. Lackadaisical finishing from FCPC let ATK off the hook several times before the referee blew his whistle for half-time.
The second half saw an improved ATK with Robin Singh entering the fray in place of Hitesh Sharma as they sought to hold on to the ball and facilitate their offense slowly and methodically. This style of play immediately allowed them to gain some semblance of control over the proceedings and they looked extremely threatening during this period. However a second substitution brought about ATK’s downfall. Putting in right winger Dave Coterill in place of center-back Tom Thorpe forced ATK to play with three at the back for a short period of time.
Unfortunately for them, Diego took full advantage of this by cutting in from the left and slotting a finessed shot into the bottom left corner of ATK custodian Debjit’s net. An interesting dynamic was observable between Marcelinho and Diego Carlos wherein the attention of the opposing center-backs on his captain allowed Diego to attack the 18-yard-box with verve. With Prabir Das further upfield, the entire left flank was unmanned and quite deservedly, Diego doubled the lead. Although Marcelinho himself had a torrid outing, his presence proved to be of great assistance to his teammates. Another exceptional facet of Pune’s game was their strict adherence to maintaining a stifling offside trap which nullified the pacy ATK forward line. For what it may be worth, one has to commend the efforts of the ATK forward line as they switched positions and took up the responsibility of picking up Jon Lucca as looked to play the ball from the back.
The game seemed to be nearing an uneventful end but 2-0 soon turned to 3-0 as Rohit – not a man feared for his offensive prowess – powered home a venomous drive from the edge of the box as the ATK defence took an age to get into shape and send a man to block a shot. The third goal sealed the deal as ATK heads dropped. Sheringham made a slew of substitutions to inject some life into the game. Grujic, not wanting to be left behind, made a few of his own as the game petered out with FCPC consolidating their hold on a playoff spot and improving their much maligned home record. The defending champs on the other hand make the long journey back home with a whole bunch of problems to worry about.
Adil Khan: My vote for Man of the Match. Slotting into an unfamiliar position at right-back, FCPC’s No.5 was rock-solid at the back with his ball-playing skills proving invaluable. Did not foray too far forward but proved to be a useful extra man in midfield to relieve pressure from the ATK press.
Diego Carlos: His best game in the orange-and-purple stripes. His link-up with Marcelinho is the latest potent FCPC partnership. Thrived in the absence of an orthodox right-back and tortured the center-backs with his fancy footwork. Put in a good defensive shift as well.
Sahil Panwar: Superlative performance at the back from the 18-year-old. Aggressive tackling and composed passing were the hallmarks of his performance. Fanai will find it hard to regain a starting berth at left-back. Another piece of the jigsaw puzzle falling into place for FCPC.
FCPC: Excellent performance that gives them a little breathing space as they near the business end of the tournament. A wealth of effective line-ups provide Ranko Popovic a welcome headache. Need to consolidate their place in the standings over the next two games both of which will be played at home.
ATK: Need to sort out their ideology. Do they want to play as a team that wants to play a brand of possession football or do they want to play counter-attacking football? Do they want to attack through the middle or depend on wing-play to get their goals? Do they want to play three at the back or four? All these are pertinent questions and could very well decide how far they go this season. All is not lost as their next FIVE fixtures are home games. It’s make-or-break time for ATK’s season. Will they rise up to the challenge?
(Featured image via ISL)
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