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 Indian Rojiblancos vs. the Tuskers

Will The Rojiblancos Ride The Elephants Today?

The Tuskers will travel to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium to face the Indian Rojiblancos in what will be a tightly contested game. The game will be close because there isn’t a lot to separate the two sides. Both of them have garnered the same number of points in their twelve games, even if they’ve done so through different paths.

The Indian Rojiblancos have drawn more games while The Tuskers have won more and lost more games. This difference between the two sides is due to their forms. Atletico De Kolkata has played the whole season in a measured and strategic manner while Kerala Blasters FC has tended to blow hot and cold.

The Indian Rojiblancos’ Form & Strategy

borja-fernandez-atkIn fact, the strategic and tactical game play has been a feature of Atletico De Kolkata not only in this season but in the history of Indian Super League. The Indian Rojiblancos come into this game on a decent run of form too. They’re unbeaten in four games but have only won their last game in that run.

While the Indian Rojiblancos largely manage their games well, their biggest problem is that they lose concentration in the last few minutes of most games. Statistically, ATK have leaked goals near the end of their games.

For example, even though they won their last game, it was only because of a last gasp winner. They led most of that game only to let their opponents equalise in the last ten minutes. Fortunately for them, they retook the lead in the 92nd minute.

The measured Indian Rojiblancos style of play shows in their formations too. They change their shape on the basis of their opponents but it is usually some version of the 4-4-1-1. Hence, we expect to see the same shape this time around.

With respect to key players, the Indian Rojiblancos have good division of labour. Their most effective attacker is Iain Hume who is second in the league with five goals. His presence in this game is iffy, however, since he has been absent for the last two games due to injury.

In the midfield, the Indian Rojiblancos’ best player is Borja Fernandez. He is third in the league in passes and leads his team in tackles. So, he performs the function of disruption and distribution simultaneously. His tackling is going to be the more useful skill in this game since The Tuskers are blowing hot right now.

The Tuskers’ Form & Strategy

Mohammed Rafi, Kerala Blasters FCThe Tuskers blowing hot and cold refers to the fact that they’ve had very bad days and very good days in the league. The early part of their season was quite poor, a period in which they won only two games out of eight played. The latter half, on the other hand, was much better because The Tuskers have won three out of their last four games.

In this game, even though The Tuskers are playing away from home, we expect them to continue their good form and get a result. They’ve build their entire game on defensive solidity provided by the central defensive partnership of the ever-reliant Cedric Hengbart and the influential Aaron Hughes.

Hughes uses his immeasurable international experience to direct the entire defence while Hengbart leads by example with his physicality and athleticism. Hengbart has been so good that he leads the lead in aerial duels won.

The Tuskers, in fact, have a very English game. They not only rely on defensive headers to dominate their opponents but also attacking headers. Their striker, Mohammed Rafi, happens to have won the third most aerial duels in the league.

Owing to their focus on the English style of football, you will see the Kerala Blasters wingers whip in many crosses for their strikers. Whether their strikers convert or not is another matter entirely because even ATK’s defenders are good in the air.

Which Way Will The Fence Topple?

This is why we expect this game to end up in a tame draw. Both teams will most probably cancel each other out with respect to formations and personnel. They will both also play very safe because neither of them will want to lose ground on the other.

In fact, the biggest contributing factor to the draw will be that it will be a good result for both these teams and will go a long way in both of them cementing their semi-finals births. A draw will mean that the Indian Rojiblancos and The Tuskers will both be on 19 points. This will put them four clear of three other teams in the league on 15 points with only two games to go.

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KBFC vs. FCPC Preview

Two Teams in Dire Need to Bounce Back

Habas and his team FC Pune City will visit Coppell and his Kerala Blasters FC, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. This is a very crucial game for KBFC and FCPC both since each of them is in need of a significant bounce-back.

There is a lot of similarity between the two teams. Both of them are on 15 points and are separated only by goal difference. Both of them are within touching distance of a semi-finals birth. Both of them have gone through poor stretches of results before turning things around with back to back wins. Moreover, both teams suffered in their respective last games in different ways, so it will be interesting to see which of them shows the most character and spirit.

KBFC’s Form & Strategy

ck-vineeth-kbfcKBFC’s last game was a disaster. They went down two goals early in the first half to Diego Forlan. As they tried to regain parity with attacking football, they were put to the sword by Mumbai City FC. They lost that game 5 – 0. Irrespective of what anyone says, their last game will have had a huge impact on their morale which, in turn, would influence this game significantly.

After all, before their last game, KBFC were the most defensively sound team in the league. That game took them from the least conceding team in the league to an average team. Since their entire style of play is based on defence, the thumping they got in their last game would’ve affected them severely. In fact, the resounding dent to their morale will most likely result in Coppell setting them out even more defensively in this game against FCPC.

For example, if they don’t have their defence to rely on, they have nothing because they’re one of the lowest scorers in the league with only 9 goals from 11 games. The only silver lining in that dark cloud of despair will be CK Vineeth who has scored 3 goals in 3 games.

FCPC’s Form & Strategy

mohamed-sissoko-fcpcFortunately for KBFC, FCPC is in the same boat. For FCPC, the lack of morale will come from having lost their last game in the dying minutes to a stoppage time goal. Still, FCPC would be hurting far less than KBFC simply because they can rely on their standout performers.

Of these, Mohamed Sissoko, their marquee signing, will be the most crucial. Sissoko is renowned for his physical, tough-tackling style of play and has exhibited the same by being amongst the top 3 tacklers in the league. However, Sissoko has shown another aspect of his game this season too. He happens to be the second most proficient passer in the league.

In addition to Sissoko, FCPC will be able to rely on Anibal Zurdo Rodriguez, who happens to have scored only one goal fewer than the league leaders. Rodriguez has scored 4 goals.

Will It Be The Tuskers Or The Stallions That Stampede?

Even though FCPC has attacking potential, you can expect them to set out their stall to not concede. This is their usual strategy for away games. We expect them to maintain the status quo and not change something that has worked for them in the majority of situations.

So, that shows us that KBFC and FCPC both will be defensive in this game. They will play conservatively and avoid taking risks. Neither of these teams has the kind of player that can generate a moment of pure magic too. This means that this match will decidedly be a drab affair. Thus, our prediction for this game is a drab, goalless draw.

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