There may have been multiple ways ATK and Chennaiyin would have visualised the ISL final today, but a completely empty stadium, despite the looming threat of COVID-19 around the world would not have been one of them. In keeping with the guidelines set by the health ministry, FSDL and ISL authorities have made the decision to have the final behind closed doors and seeing the trend across the world, this might be one the handful of tournaments that might actually see finality, at least for the next couple of months.
Two teams that have had the most success in ISL with two trophies apiece, battle it out in the final today. Both teams have had varying journeys to the final, ATK who have been straight favourites right from the beginning of the tournament and Chennaiyin who had a bumpy start but picked up pace in some style towards the end.
The Kolkata outfit has had an all-round side with a highly potent attack but an equally solid midfield and defence, have justified the club’s spending. Despite an early goal by Bengaluru in the semi-final, ATK came from behind to score three goals, winning 3-2 on aggregate. Antonio Habas has succeeded in getting the team out of such situations and he has relied on the prolific duo of Roy Krishna and David Williams to deliver. Between them, they have 21 goals and 9 assists to their name, contributing more than 50% of the team’s total goals.
Javier Hernandez, Edu Garcia and Michael Soosairaj, have also chipped in with the goals. Despite losing out on Agustin Iniguez in February, the kind of depth ATK have in their squad has been evident, John Johnson, Sumit Rathi and Pritam Kotal have seamlessly held the fort, and they are the second-best defence in the league. Last but not the least, Prabir Das has been a star for them, operating on the right flank, teams have had a tough time against him, he’s also been responsible for five assists, the most by a defender. He put in a really good shift against Bengaluru including two assists, to help his team reach the final.
Then their opponents from down south: Chennaiyin FC. How really to describe Chennaiyin’s season? A comeback doesn’t really cover just the manner in which they have fought back to reach this far. It’s hard to think of a similar example in Indian football of how much difference a new coach at the helm can have a complete 360 on the team’s fortunes. Under Owen Coyle, a completely new Chennaiyin turned up and nobody has really managed to stop them. Upfront, Nerijus Valskis, Andre Schembri, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Rafael Crivellaro has produced goals in the bulk. Again, as with ATK, the duo of Crivellaro and Valskis with 21 goals, out of the club’s 38 overall have done more than half the scoring. Anirudh Thapa and Edwin Vanspaul marshal the midfield and have been sensational for the team.
At the back Lucian Goian, Eli Sabia, Jerry Lalrinzuala have done well, but against the attack of ATK, they will have to do much better. Besides Chennaiyin have been outscoring opponents more often than not, and when they met FC Goa in the second leg of the semi-final, an attack as equally threatening as theirs, they suffered a defeat 3-4 in the match but won on the aggregate. This will be one thing they will be wary about, especially up against the likes of Krishna, Williams and Garcia who can take advantage of the errors. Having said that, come the final, any small advantages one team has over the other will be wiped out due to the sense of the occasion and the nerves.
There are a few smaller duels that will be playing out as well:
For one, the race for the golden boot between Roy Krishna and Nerijus Valskis. The former leads the charts with 15 goals, and the later has 14 goals to his name, A slender lead. But either way, getting the golden boot can be only sweeter when the ISL trophy is won. Another battle will be on the wings between Chhangte and Prabir Das, both of whom have been exceptional this season. Chhangte has the second-highest number of goals by an Indian player, and Prabir Das has the most assists for a defender. Just which of the two comes on top, will have a huge bearing on who goes on to win the final. Both of them are proved match winners, and there is no better match than the final to establish their authority. Third, will be the coaches, for Habas, it will be a good way to repay the trust that was bestowed on him when he was brought back to Kolkata. For Owen Coyle, as the director in chief of probably one of the best comebacks we have seen in India in recent times, finishing off with the trophy will be the best way to cap off a brilliant season. Although, the 2015 comeback by Chennaiyin, orchestrated by Marco Materazzi may hold a higher position for the Chennai faithful.
Both the teams will be looking to finish off with the trophy, a third trophy, which will give them the bragging rights as the ‘most successful’ team in the short history of ISL. In the pre-match press conference, the managers were aware of what was at stake. Habas said that although his team did well to claw back in the second leg of the semi-final, it will not be the case in the final and they will have to be wary, “We did well in the semi-finals, but we are in the final now. There’s no chance of recovering in a final. So, we have to be intelligent and controlled. We can’t look at the past. We have to focus on the final. Football is about the present,”
Coyle, on the other hand, summed up the clash, and spoke about the mindset of his team, “Two very good teams going all out to be champions. Two teams who have won the title twice in the history of Hero ISL – the two top teams. Somebody on Saturday night will be the outright top club in the Hero ISL. We want to make sure that it’s us.” He also added that they had not come so far to stop now.
All in all, it looks like a very enticing game is on the cards, and lots of goals will be scored in the process. Except for the deserted stands, this clash between the teams promises to be a fitting finale to cap of one of the best seasons of ISL.