ISL final: Battle of strikers as ATK & Chennaiyin eye record 3rd title
Fatorda: There might not be any spectators to cheer them from the stands, but when ATK and Chennaiyin FC cross swords in their bid to win a record third Indian Super League (ISL) title, there would be no shortage of intensity at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in a one-of-a-kind final here on Saturday.
Owing to the coronavirus outbreak, an advisory from the Sports Ministry on Thursday asked all national federations to ensure any sporting event be conducted without spectators.
Abiding by that, ISL organisers were forced to hold the summit clash behind closed doors, a first for the league which started in 2014.
While that did leave football crazy fans in Goa high and dry, both teams said at the pre-match press conference on Friday that will be no dearth of motivation as they chase a record third ISL crown.
ATK, coached by Spaniard Antonio Lopez Habas who guided them to their first title in the inaugural 2014 season, have been one of the two most consistent teams this season not dropping out of the top-four once. The two-time winners finished second in the points table.
For the 'miracle men' of Chennai, they have seen Irish coach Owen Coyle turn the tables in quite remarkable fashion.
The two-time winners were rock-bottom till December before Coyle replaced John Gregory and in the 14 matches in charge, Chennaiyin went on to lose just three to gatecrash the playoffs by finishing fourth.
In the semifinals, ATK showed resolve of the highest order by registering a 3-1 win over Bengaluru FC in the second leg at the Salt Lake Stadium. Needing to overturn a 1-0 first leg loss, the Kolkata outfit were dealt an early blow as the Blues struck first, but rallied to progress to the title decider with a 3-2 aggregate win over last season's champions.
Chennaiyin secured their place in the final after edging out FC Goa by a 6-5 aggregate scoreline. The Gaurs won their second leg here 4-2, but it wasn't quite enough to overturn a 4-1 defeat they suffered in the first leg back in Chennai last week.
Leading the charge for the two teams will be two potent strike-forces who have scored a combined 33 goals this season.
While ATK have seen their electric combination of Roy Krishna and David Williams do wonders, for their opponents, it has been the guile and persistence of Rafael Crivellaro and Nerijus Valskis. The battle between Krishna-Williams and Crivellaro-Valskis will most definitely have a telling impact on the game.
Krishna and Williams are no strangers to each other, having already struck up a chord during their time at Wellington Phoenix in the A-League before making their move to ATK.
They both feed off each other as the two strikers in Habas' system and were instrumental again in the semi-finals against Bengaluru. With ATK needing to score three goals at home, Krishna scored one and Williams hit two as ATK booked their spot in the final.
Krishna is in the race for the ISL Golden Boot award. He has scored 15 goals so far. He also has five assists to his name. David Williams has scored 7 goals and has four assists despite missing a few games due to injury.
Crivellaro and Valskis, on the other hand, have no prior connection but have hit it off after the initial stutter. Chennaiyin scored no goals in their first four matches before going on to score 38 in their next 16. Twenty-one of those have come from Valskis (14) and Crivellaro (7).
Overall, ATK and Chennaiyin have met 14 times, the former winning six times with four matches ending in draws. This season, ATK beat Chennaiyin away only to lose at home.
This is the first time that these two clubs are meeting each other in the final. Interestingly, neither club has lost an ISL final -- a run that will end for one on Saturday.