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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