The Indian Super League is all set to get the ball rolling on the 20th of November, with ATK Mohun Bagan locking horns with Kerala Blasters in a rollicking opening encounter at Bambolim. ATK Mohun Bagan goes into the new campaign riding on the expectations of millions of Mariners all over the world and before they begin their campaign let us analyze the squad they have put together and how they could line up under Antonio Lopez Habas this season.
After the merger of ATK and Mohun Bagan, ATKMB had the unique opportunity to handpick the best talents from the squad of two champion sides. Add to that, the management has been wily in the transfer market and have secured the services of stalwarts in Indian and Asian football to their ranks. The Mariners have got themselves a deep squad balancing youth and experience. Let’s take a look at the squad at Habas’ disposal this season.
Goalkeepers: Arindam Bhattacharjee, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, Avilash Paul, Arsh Shaikh and Aryan Niraj Lamba
Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Tiri, Subhasish Bose, Sumit Rathi, Boris Singh Thangjam and Prabir Das.
Midfielders: SK Sahil, Carl McHugh, Michael Soosairaj, Michael Regin, Jayesh Rane, Pronay Halder, Javi Hernandez, Edu Garcia, Brad Inman, Glan Martins, Mohammed Fardin Ali Molla and Ningombam Engson Singh.
Strikers: Roy Krishna, David Williams, Manvir Singh and Joby Justin (to miss ISL 2020/21 due to injury) .
Roy Krishna, David Williams, Edu Garcia and Carl McHugh could very well be instrumental in the Mariner’s success this season. Krishna and Williams partnership upfront last season was so lethal that most defences dismantled in front of their brilliance. Last season both of them combined to score 22 goals and the onus will once again be on them to find the goals for the Green and Maroon brigade. Edu Garcia could very well be playing in the hole behind the two strikers and the creative duties will be his responsibilities and he has proven time and again, that he is more than up for the job. McHugh’s season was cut short due to injury last season and the man from Ireland would be raring to go this season and could be pivotal to Habas’ plans. Also, the signings of Manvir Singh and Brad Inman along with Javi Hernandez, whose services were retained, the Mariners have options on the bench to resuscitate their options in the final third.
The signings of Tiri, Sandesh and Subhasish pairing up with Pritam Kotal and Sumit Rathi who was impressive last season, gives ATKMB a defensive unit that could be the best in the league, given they stay injury-free. Tiri and Sandesh would be partnering up in the heart of the defence for the first time and they would need to form a formidable partnership if the Mariners are looking to secure silverware this season. Also on paper ATKMB looks to have an impenetrable defence but their defensive bench strength seems to lack quality. While Boris is a good player but can he step into the shoes of Tiri or Sandesh in case of injuries is something Habas will have to ponder over.
The ATK Mohun Bagan’s youth brigade this season boasts of some of the finest young players in the country who have impressed in the I-League and Indian Super League when given the opportunities. Subho Ghosh and Sk Sahil were very impressive with Mohun Bagan last season, Subho grabbing some crucial goals coming off the bench, while Sahil was a mainstay in Mohun Bagan’s midfield last season. There is no doubt about the pedigree of Komal Thatal but the young man has had an ebb and flows performance graph in the past ISLs and he would need to show a bit more consistency if he along with Subha Ghosh, Deep Saha and Kiyan Nassiri wants to break into the squad. Fardin and Engson managed to impress Habas and got themselves included in the squad, now will they get the chance to showcase their talents, well the fans will have to wait for it until the season kicks off.
Habas has an impeccable record in the Indian Super League. In his 3 seasons in India, he has won the title twice and managed a play-off finish. A rock-solid defence and then hitting the opposition on the fast break has been critical to his success. Even though he has been criticised for being too defensive on occasions, Habas or the Mariners won’t be bothered by it. Football is a result-driven business and Antonio Lopez Habas gets you those results. It would be interesting to see the approach he takes this season. He has the ammunitions in his arsenal to continue with the same approach but football is an ever-evolving game and Habas could be more on the offence this season given the attacking assets at his disposal.
While Habas preferred a 3 man defensive partnership last season with 2 wing-backs, he could go back to a more conventional approach this season with a 4 man defence, 2 CBs with 2 side backs. He lacked a proper LB last season and the signing of Subhasish Bose does solve that problem. Also, the availability of Sk Sahil, Pronay Halder and Carl McHugh gives him the option to play a double or single pivot based on requirements.
Habas is great at man-management which has contributed to his success as a manager. He has been credited on multiple occasions for creating an environment in the dressing room, where team-mates fight for each other and not with each other. He will need all his man-management skills this season as there are some heavyweight names in that Mariners dressing room this season and you can only start 11 of them. It would be fascinating to see if he can manage to create another harmonious dressing room this campaign.
While Habas did prefer the 3-5-2 formation last season, he could go with with a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, with a single pivot diamond shaped midfield. Let’s look at how the Green and Maroon brigade might line up:
Substitutes: Dheeraj (GK), Sumit Rathi, Salam Ranjan Singh, Brad Inman, Pronay Halder, Javier Hernandez, Manvir Singh.
The Mariners this season could give the best of sides a run for their money. Given that the ISL would be taking place under closed doors, the sides will be missing their fans this season and ATKMB will miss the passionate support they are so used to. But the Mariners can hope for another successful season and ATK Mohun Bagan could challenge for the title as well as the AFC Champions League spot. Yet another exciting season awaits us and with the introduction of the fabled Kolkata rivalry in the ISL this season, could very sweet for the Mariners if they manage to once again get one over their arch-rivals and bring the title to the City of Joy.