ISL 2016 Final Preview: The Tuskers vs. Indian Rojiblancos

What is the Script of The ISL 2016 Final?

Two out of three finals since the Indian Super League’s inception have been contested by the same teams. As The Tuskers and the Indian Rojiblancos face off at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi for the ISL 2016 final, they will be replaying the 2014 season finale that was won by Atletico De Kolkata.

As if that wasn’t interesting enough, there will be one player in this game who played for one team last time out and will play for the other team this time out. Iain Hume started the 2014-final in the canary colours of Kerala Blasters FC but this time, in the ISL 2016 final, he’ll be donning the red and white of Atletico De Kolkata.

The Tuskers’ Form & Strategy

ck-vineeth-the-tuskersFor The Tuskers, this is an opportunity to extract revenge for what happened in the first ever final of the Indian Super League. If that wasn’t motivation enough, they will have thousands of fans backing them in what is, fortunately, their home ground.

At the beginning of this season, no one would’ve claimed that The Tuskers will make it to the ISL 2016 final, this season. Their start was very poor, their performance very lacklustre, and their players incredibly disinterested. Two losses saw them rooted to the bottom of the table. Since then, they’ve worked hard and ended up losing only two games in 14.

They’ve done this by controlling the games they’ve been in. Since they couldn’t score, they made sure that their opponents couldn’t either. In fact, in the league phase, The Tuskers scored the least number of goals in the entire league! Overall, their games have been some of the lowest scoring ones in the entire league.

The Tuskers’ style of play reflects their manager’s nationality, English. Steve Coppell has set up his team to defend well and use route-one to counter in speed. They use diagonals liberally and, once on the flanks, cross freely. This is why their tall strikers, Mohammed Rafi and CK Vineeth have such good aerial duels won numbers.

Defensively, they block out passing lanes with a compact shape that is managed by their marquee player, Aaron Hughes, a footballing icon in Northern Ireland. This forces their opponents to force the issue or cross the ball which allows their other central defender, Cedric Hengbart, to use his tackling or heading skills to snuff the attack. The direct result of this is that Hengbart is the leading tackler and header in the whole league.

Incidentally, their forward, CK Vineeth has the best game to goal ratio in the league, which shows his tremendous efficiency. Out for the majority of the first half of the season due to other commitments, CK Vineeth stepped into this team to score no less than 5 goals in 8 games.

Indian Rojiblancos’ Form & Strategy

hume-atletico-de-kolkataAtletico De Kolkata will have to work very hard to keep Vineeth quiet. Fortunately, they’ve become very proficient at keeping strikers quiet. Theirs is a strategic and tactical approach to every game. The Indian Rojiblancos also try to the control the game, a la The Tuskers. The difference is that while The Tuskers do it by shutting down defence and using lightning quick attacks, the Indian Rojiblancos do it by stifling the midfield.

Atletico De Kolkata lock down the midfield through their possession play when they have the ball and by overloading it when they don’t. This is precisely why the Indian Rojiblancos have now become the team that has drawn the most in a single season of the Indian Super League.

This is also why their primary midfielder also happens to lead the entire league in passes. Borja Fernandez is a very important player for the Indian Rojiblancos since he keeps their midfield ticking. He not only passes the ball but also gets it back from opponents, which is reflected in the fact that, amongst ATK players, he has the most tackles.

However, no one, not even their marquee player Helder Postiga, is more important to the Indian Rojiblancos than Iain Hume. Hume makes them tick in a number of ways. He plays either as an out and out striker or a shadow striker. He is a terrier without the ball and a battering ram with it.

He performs a number of duties for his teammates. He drops into holes to keep their possession play ticking when the opposition manages to seal off the midfield against them. He makes runs behind the defensive line to receive through balls and convert them. He harrows the opponent defensive players into making mistakes and turning over possession. And finally, he connects midfield (Borja) to the strike force (Postiga). He will be crucial in the ISL 2016 final too.

A Repeat of 2014 or a New Story?

isl-2014-finalBoth these teams share many traits. Amongst the four semifinalists, these two teams were considered to be the least likely to make it to the ISL 2016 final. Mumbai City FC and Delhi Dynamos FC had much better performances during the league phase and were most bookies’ favourites to make it.

Another similarity between these two teams is that they both have a physical style of play. They both are also defensive in nature to the point that their approach to games is “don’t-lose-first”. In fact, their physicality and defensive mindedness are probably why they could beat their respective opponents in the semi-finals.

Because of these similarities, there is very little to set these two teams apart except for their fitness levels and support. First and foremost, The Tuskers have a huge advantage over the Indian Rojiblancos in the form of their support.

Fortunately, the ISL 2016 final, this time out, are being held in The Tuskers’ home ground in Kochi. Their home support is the strongest in the entire league and should act as the 12th man on their team. In contrast, the Indian Rojiblancos should feel the hostile atmosphere in this game.

However, the Indian Rojiblancos have their own advantage. They’ve had one day’s worth of rest more than The Tuskers because the latter played their semi-finals after Atletico De Kolkata. More importantly, though, The Tuskers had to go through the entire extra time to win their semi-final while the Indian Rojiblancos wrapped up their game in normal time. This will give the Indian Rojiblancos a distinct fitness advantage over The Tuskers.

While the odds may be stacked evenly between these two teams, we’re compelled to stick our neck out by predicting the winner. There has to be a winner, so there has to be a prediction. We expect The Tuskers’ home support to tell by the end of the game. Our preferred score line is 2 – 1 in favour of the southern team but we do expect Iain Hume to score for the Indian Rojiblancos.

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The Pride vs. The Tuskers Preview

The Pride Will Attack Like Lions While The Tuskers Will Defend Like Elephants

The Tuskers will travel to the capital of the country to face the most offensive team in the league, The Pride, in their own backyard. The game will take place at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and should be thoroughly entertaining since the Delhi Dynamos FC need to beat Kerala Blasters FC to progress to the finals, after their 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the semi-final.

The Pride’s Strategy & Form

Marcelinho, The PrideThere is no team more capable of turning over a deficit like that in the league this season than The Pride. They are, without a doubt, the best attacking outfit of the eight teams. Delhi Dynamos FC is an incredibly free-flowing, dynamic, and attacking team. Their front three i.e. Kean Lewis, Marcelinho, and Richard Gadze, are very effective when they linkup and interchange their positions.

Marcelinho, in fact, is the best player in the entire league. He leads the league in goals (9), assists (5), and even in shots taken. Even Gadze is an effective force. He is second on the assists leader board with 4 assists and even has 5 goals to his game.

Behind the front three, the midfield is controlled by the legendary French player, Florent Malouda. Malouda also have 5 assists in the league and is the second leading passer of the league. What all these statistics show is that The Pride happens to be the highest scoring, highest assisting, and the best passing team in the entire league.

This is why their defeat at the hands of The Tuskers in the last game was more of an anomaly than norm. Delhi Dynamos FC was decidedly lacklustre last time out. They couldn’t stamp their identity on the game which is why a single moment of brilliance from The Tuskers undid them.

That 1-0 loss means that The Pride need to win this game by at least 1-0 in normal time. A 1-0 score line in favour of Delhi Dynamos FC will mean extra time. Extra time will be a problem for both teams in this game particularly since fitness is a huge issue for all Indian Super League teams.

The Tuskers Strategy & Form

ck-vineet-the-tuskersFor The Tuskers, their win over The Pride in the previous leg puts them in a very good position. Now, just avoiding defeat would be enough for them to progress to the finals. The previous game’s win was actually a surprise simply because The Pride has blown away all comers this season.

There were three factors that contributed to The Tuskers’ win over The Pride. The first was a moment of individual brilliance from Kervens Belfort who dribbled the ball from deep in his own half all the way to the goal. Belfort actually beat a number of Delhi defenders before slotting the ball past The Pride’s goalkeeper.

The second factor was the fact that the Delhi Dynamos FC players, themselves, failed to show up for the game. The last and the most important factor, though, was The Tuskers’ home support. Kerala Blasters FC has the best support in the league not only in terms of noise but also numbers. Their home ground has been a cauldron of fanaticism that has fuelled their performances.

While Delhi Dynamos FC didn’t play their last game well, it was partly due to Kerala Blaster FC’s defensive strategy too. The Tuskers shut down The Pride’s offence by a simple expedient i.e. keeping their wingers from cutting in. This nullified their best player Marcelinho and his foil Kean Lewis while simultaneously isolating Gadze.

The Tuskers will want to repeat that defensive performance. Fortunately, it should come naturally to them, since that is their primary style of play. The Tuskers have a defence-first style of play where they rely on the athleticism of Cedric Hengbart and the leadership qualities of Aaron Hughes, their marquee player.

In attack, The Tuskers are very much influenced by English football since their coach, Steve Coppell, is English. They like to put in crosses from the wings as well as drop long diagonals from one side to the other onto the heads of their very tall players.

As a result, Cedric Hengbart, a defender and Mohammed Rafi, a striker, are first and second in the league in aerial duels won. Their best attacker, though, is the Indian CK Vineeth who has scored 5 goals in only 7 games. The Tuskers will counterattack in this game and will want Vineeth to be at the end of at least one such counter.

Mauling by Paws or Impaling by Tusks; This Will Be a Gore Fest

However, it is unlikely that The Tuskers will get many chances to counter in this game. We expect them to be pegged back in their half by the attacking verve of The Pride. In fact, we don’t even expect The Tuskers to hold out through the full 90 minutes without conceding a goal, even though they have some of the best defenders in the league.

The constant attack from The Pride will tell by the end of the game. For us, this game will see Delhi Dynamos FC progress to the finals. It will be a high scoring game. High scoring games are hard to predict but it will probably be 3-2 in favour of The Pride. Our bonus prediction will be a goal from Gadze and an assist from Marcelinho.

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Mumbai City FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata Semi-Final Leg-2 Preview

League Leaders Go Up Against The Odds As They Take On Seasoned Campaigners

In this second leg of the Indian Super League semi-final, Mumbai City FC will play the visiting Atletico De Kolkata at their home ground, the Mumbai Football Arena. The game is precariously poised since the first leg was won by ATK with a score line of 3-2. This score line is in no way indomitable and is, in fact, quite surmountable for an attacking team playing at home.

Mumbai City FC’s Strategy & Form

lucian-goian-mumbai-city-fcThat description applies to Mumbai City FC but the Mumbaikars will hope that they can do justice to that description. The team that ended the ISL league phase at the top of the table was turned over in sensational fashion in the first leg of the semi-final.

Mumbai City FC doesn’t need to do a lot to achieve that since they already have two away goals to their name. The away goals mean that even a 1-0 score line in their favour will see them go through to the finals. However, as the last game showed, it is unlikely that this game will be a dull affair, regardless of how badly Atletico De Kolkata will want it to be like that.

Mumbai City FC, themselves, set out offensively in most games. Alexandre Guimares, the Mumbai coach, typically sets his team out in the 4-2-3-1 formation with special emphasis on attacking. Mumbai City FC has a free flowing style of play which relies heavily on passing the ball through their playmakers.

Defensively, Mumbai City FC is not that much of a tackling team. Instead, they try to cover passing lanes and intercept passes. In fact, they’re so proficient in interceptions that three of top four interceptors in the league are from Mumbai.

Mumbai City FC’s squad of interceptors is led by Lucian Goian who is also the leading interceptor in the league. He is also the leading tackler in the league. Goian fills multiple shoes for Mumbai City FC actually. Apart from intercepting and tackling, Goian is the leading aerial duel winner for Mumbai City FC.

The biggest challenge for Mumbai City FC in this game will be the absence of their marquee player, Diego Forlan. Forlan, as international football watchers will know, is a globally renowned Uruguayan striker. His absence will be due to two yellow cards in the last game.

Forlan will be missed because he is Mumbai City FC’s primary attacking outlet. He is their leading goal scorer as well as their leading shot taker. More importantly, he is their inspiration owing to his years of experience.

Forlan’s position in the team will be taken up by Matias Defederico, who should be rested since he didn’t start their last game. Defederico, himself, isn’t a chump with the ball since he already has three goals and three assists to his name.

Atletico De Kolkata’s Strategy & Form

iain-hume-atletico-de-kolkataAtletico De Kolkata has a different set of agendas in this game. They simply need to avoid a defeat in this game and they’ll be through to the final. It won’t be easy, however, because they’ll be playing away from home against a team that is very offensively savvy.

Fortunately, Atletico De Kolkata’s strategic approach should stand them in good stead. Like Mumbai City FC, they will also play the 4-2-3-1 formation, albeit in a defensive manner. Atletico De Kolkata will play defensive but they will still be on the lookout for counterattacking opportunities.

They will depend on their midfield maestro, Borja Fernandez, to release those quick counterattacks. Borja is the leading passer in the league which shows the kind of passing range he possesses. He also happens to be defensively proficient since he is the leading tackler for ATK.

Sergio Molina, Atletico De Kolkata’s manager, will instruct Borja and his midfield cohorts to try to release Iain Hume and Helder Postiga. Hume’s pace will particularly play a role in this game in Mumbai. Hume, in fact, was the difference between the two teams in the first leg of the semi-final. Before he decided to take the game by the scruff of its neck, Mumbai City FC were leading 2 – 1.

In this game, Hume’s pace will again play a crucial role. Moreover, Molina may even choose to return the well-rested Javi Lara Grande to his starting line-up purely on the basis of his pace and dribbling skills.

The Intellectual Capital or the Financial Capital?

In this game, we expect Atletico De Kolkata to try to shut down shop and sit back in banks of four to prevent Mumbai City FC from getting through balls off. It will be Mumbai City FC’s attack vs. Atletico De Kolkata’s defence and we expect the latter to prevail.

Atletico De Kolkata is far better placed for this game than Mumbai City FC for three reasons. The first is that they already have a lead to protect. The second is that they are very good in translating their strategic plans into practice on the pitch. And, the third is that even though Mumbai City FC is playing at home, their home turnouts have been mediocre at best.

Mumbai City FC fans are neither large in number nor very vocal. This means that the home advantage isn’t that effective for Mumbai City FC. Effectively, Atletico De Kolkata will not feel any hostility or pressure from the opposing fans in this game. Thus, our prediction is a scoring draw in this game which will put Atletico De Kolkata into the finals to be held in Kochi.a

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