An exhilarating Indian Super League season will crown its champion as ATK Mohun Bagan take on Bengaluru FC for the silverware at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday.
A win for the Mariners can hand them their maiden ISL title, while the Blues could lift their second one, having last done so in the 2018-19 season. Atletico Kolkata (ATK) before Mohun Bagan was bought over, had won ISL titles.
ATKMB have been unbeaten in five games leading up to the final, where they have only conceded once in those five games while keeping four clean sheets.
The club’s defensive prowess has been evident since the league phase, where they conceded just 17 goals all season, making them statistically the second-best defensive team in the league after Hyderabad FC.
‘Belief’ is what kept these two teams going till the final and now they fight for the ultimate prize! 🏆#ATKMBBFC #HeroISL #LetsFootball #HeroISLFinal #ATKMohunBagan #BengaluruFC | @atkmohunbaganfc @bengalurufc pic.twitter.com/aTcPCy3LUh
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) March 17, 2023
A solid defensive backline with Pritam Kotal and Brendan Hamill enabled the Mariners to achieve this feat. However, in the last four games, Slavko Damjanovic has replaced Hamill at the heart of defence as ATK Mohun Bagan have kept clean sheets in all those games. Asish Rai has been a threat down the right flank.
In attack, the only player that head coach Juan Ferrando could be without is Ashique Kuruniyan, but the ATKMB coach is positive about him playing. He will be assessed in training before the final against his former club.
“In the last few games, they (Bengaluru FC) have been very good and have played confidently. On the field, they look like a proper team. It will be very important to control this game from the start. The focus, as always, is on our team, and we have faith in our plan,” said Ferrando.
Despite beating League Shield winners Mumbai City FC on penalties in the semi-final, Bengaluru FC suffered their first regulation-time defeat of the year in the second leg. The Blues were on a 10-game winning run before the Islanders restored parity and eventually lost on penalties.
Head coach Simon Grayson has used Sunil Chhetri as an impact substitute and in the last five games, the 38-year-old Indian skipper has come on to score vital goals on three occasions.
Grayson will likely field an unchanged XI in the final with Chhetri on the bench, while Roy Krishna and talented Sivasakthi Narayanan – who assisted their only goal last game – could start.
“Leaving someone of his quality, experience and professionalism out is a really tough decision. But as a coach, regardless if it’s Sunil Chhetri or Rohit Kumar, I have to make what I think is the right decision,” said Grayson.
“(ATKMB) are defensively very solid, they have some good defenders, and good competition for places. We will respect the opposition but I’m sure they’ll know that we have some decent players in our team.
“Hopefully, when we’re talking after the game, it will have been a great advert for the ISL and Indian football,” he added.
In six ISL matches in the past, Bengaluru FC have only beaten ATKMB once and that came when the two sides last met at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan last month. The Mariners have beaten the Blues four times.