ATK Mohun Bagan managed to start off their debut Indian Super League campaign on the right note as they came second to Mumbai City FC in the race for both the ISL Shield and the trophy. In search of redemption, the club went to the Maldives followed by Uzbekistan with an aim to achieve continental glory, but they returned home battered and bruised having been thrashed by Al Nasaf six-nil.
The squad received a reality check ahead of the upcoming ISL season and will now be fully motivated to turn things around in spite of the set back in the AFC Cup. With Antonio Lopez Habas continuing as manager, the team is mostly composed of known faces with a few additions here and there.
Assessment of ATK Mohun Bagan’s transfer window
ATK Mohun Bagan splashed some big bucks in the summer transfer window, as they paid some huge amounts in transfer fees for Hugo Boumous and Liston Colaco. The club also signed top players like goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, Ashutosh Mehta and Finnish international Joni Kauko on free transfers, thus concluding in what has been a busy transfer window. Meanwhile, on the downside, Bagan will be missing the services of defensive stalwart Sandesh Jhingan and last year’s golden glove winner Arindam Bhattacharya, alongside a couple of promising youngsters.
While Jhingan has moved to Europe, Arindam has signed for rival club SC East Bengal. Losing Sandesh has heavily affected the side’s defense as has been reflected in their AFC Cup performance. They also lost youngster Salam Ranjan Singh who signed for Chennaiyin FC in search of greener pastures. The club scrambled to find a replacement for the defender and signed Gursimrat Singh Gill from Sudeva Delhi FC in an attempt to strengthen their defence. A glaring weakness in their team last season was their midfield, which failed to create enough chances for their forwards, and they have strengthened that part enough with the signings of Hugo Boumous, Joni Kauko and Deepak Tangri.
It is fair to say that Amrinder Singh has been one of the best goalkeepers in the ISL during the past few years. Having had one of his best seasons last year, the No.2 to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the national team is now back in the reckoning, eager to win another title. The former Mumbai City skipper ran out of contract this summer and has been signed by Bagan perhaps with an eye on the long term future given Arindam’s age. Singh’s arrival led to the former leaving the club and joining arch rivals SC East Bengal.
Avilash Paul, who was purchased in 2018 by then ATK from Aizawl FC, is the second to Amrinder at the club. Given how Arindam has performed over the years, Paul has had very few opportunities, but will now try to push for a starting spot. Additionally, the club has Arsh Anwar Sheikh who has made his way up from their academy and is a promising prospect. Bagan seem to lack depth in the goalkeeping department, with both Avilash and Arsh not tested enough at the highest levels but their goalkeeping coach, Javier Pindado, knows his trade and how to bring the best out of the players available and the club will once again entrust its goalkeeping department to Pindado.
ATK Mohun Bagan conceded the fewest goals (15) last season in the Indian Super League, demonstrating the defensive effectiveness of Habas’ team. Bagan maintained this form in Asia, conceding just two goals in the AFC Cup group stage but faltered against Al Nasaf, who exploited the defensive weaknesses that still exist in Bagan. The team has certainly suffered because of Jhingan’s exit but with the presence of youngsters like Gursimrat Gill and Sumit Rathi, the team will hope that they can compensate for his absence.
Bagan has enough versatility at the back with both Subhashish Bose and Pritam Kotal’s ability to play as a centre back as and when required. They also have excellent quality and depth in the wing back position with the arrival of Ashutosh Mehta and the potential return of Michael Soosairaj and Prabir Das from injuries. Tiri’s return coupled with McHugh’s and Deepak Tangri’s ability to slot into the backline gives Habas plenty of options at the back and he will hope that his team continues to maintain the defensive form that they displayed before the Nasaf match.
One thing that stood out as a major weakness about the ATK Mohun Bagan team last season was their midfield. As a result of the midfielders’ struggles to create enough chances, the attacking duo of Roy and Williams went heavily underutilized. Bagan clearly demonstrated the repercussions of not having a good creative midfielder in the team last season with both Javi Hernandez and Edu Garcia struggling with injuries throughout the season.
The recruitment team took the matter up as a priority, and they brought in two high profile players to replace Javi and Garcia. The club splashed a lot of cash on the signing of Finland’s Euro 2020 star Joni Kauko, along with arguably the best foreign midfielder in ISL as in Hugo Boumous.
Habas prefers a safety net in front of the back four or five, and Tangri demonstrated through the AFC Cup that he is the ideal candidate for that role. The young midfielder joined the club on a free transfer from Chennaiyin and has since delivered some impressive performances for both the club and national team.
The AFC Cup also hinted that Lenny Rodrigues might partner Deepak in the double pivot, but the chances of a youngster like Ricky Shabong or Sk Sahil making it into the first eleven cannot be ruled out. The midfield lacks experience following the departures of Pronoy Halder and Jayesh Rane, but this offers players like Engson and Bidyananda Singh a real chance to break into the starting eleven.
As far as the ATK Mohun Bagan forward line is concerned, not much has changed over the summer other than the departures of Jobby Justin and Komal Thatal and the arrival of Liston Colaco. Jobby’s move to Chennai might force Bagan to consider Fardin Ali or perhaps even Ravi Rana, two exciting youngsters who can shape the future of the club. Komal Thatal, looking for game time, moved to Jamshedpur and Liston Colaco, an upgrade, was signed in his place. Colaco was one of the emerging players last season and will hope to improve even further under the likes of Manvir Singh and Krishna.
Michael Soosairaj’s return from the ACL injury could also prove crucial for the team, as the winger played a key role in Habas’ ISL winning season in 2019/20. Meanwhile, David Williams and Roy Krishna will continue to lead the frontline for another season as both of them signed a contract extension this summer. Bagan will be relying on the duo for goals, just like they did last season while Manvir Singh will hope to maintain his form from last year and continue cutting in from the right to score goals.
Possible line up
Strengths and weaknesses
ATK Mohun Bagan’s forward line is their strongest suit. Having a goal scorer like Roy Krishna up front paired with an attacking midfielder like Hugo Boumous can cause havoc for opposing defenses. Prabir, Liston, Manvir, Soosai and Mehta all possess excellent speed and crossing skills, making the wings an equally threatening unit. Despite Bagan’s strong attacking threat, their defense was at times shaky and frequently conceded goals from set pieces. Tangri and Kauko’s inclusion in the team provides them with enough ammunition to defend set pieces and hopefully make amends for the mistakes they committed last season.
One of the highlights of the transfer window was the race for Apuia and it was no secret that Bagan wanted him as well who eventually signed for Mumbai City FC. Considering Lenny’s age, it is obviously questionable whether he can give his best for ninety minutes, but Bagan currently lacks enough good midfielders who can compete for the same spot. The only experienced Indian midfielders in the team currently are a 34-year-old Lenny and Deepak Tangri. While Apuia could have been the answer to their question, but after losing out on the youngster, the midfield spot beside Deepak Tangri appears to be a weak spot for ATK Mohun Bagan.
Probable finish in the league table
ATK Mohun Bagan’s position in the points table will depend a lot on how the team as a whole responds after the humiliation in Uzbekistan. A top four finish will be the bare minimum given how much the club has invested in the team over the past two years. Mumbai, Goa, Chennai and Hyderabad have strengthened their teams considerably well, while clubs like Odisha and Northeast cannot be ruled out and could very well put up a good fight against Bagan. However, considering the quality of the current squad and Habas’ brilliance, a top two finish is likely for the men in green and maroon.
Follow our website for the latest updates on Indian Football.