It’s the clash of the two-time Indian Super League champions in the ISL-6 finale as Chennaiyin FC and ATK FC go head-to-head at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao on Saturday evening. A third ISL crown for either team will guarantee a 2021 AFC Cup playoff spot as both teams chase history and bragging rights as the tournament’s most successful team in its six-year history.
The league’s organizers, Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), announced on Thursday evening that the final will be played behind closed doors as a preventive measure following the coronavirus outbreak, meaning no spectators will be allowed inside the stadium.
The Marina Machans became the outright top scorers in ISL semis (23) and made it to their third ISL final in six years after overcoming FC Goa by a 6-5 aggregate margin having won the first-leg by a 4-1 scoreline. And ATK produced a memorable second-leg comeback, beating Bengaluru FC 3-1 after losing 1-0 in the first-leg.
Chennaiyin FC head coach Owen Coyle has masterminded a brilliant script that has seen his side go from 9th in the table in December to qualifying for the semis with a game to spare following an eight-match unbeaten run including six wins and two draws, the most by any ISL team in that period.
Chennaiyin FC enter the final having scored the second-most number of goals (38) behind FC Goa (51), the former showing remarkable resurgence after not netting in the opening four games of the season. And Chennaiyin FC’s attacking quartet of Nerijus Valskis, Rafael Crivellaro, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Andre Schembri have scored 33 of those goals with the Lithuanian striker Valskis leading the way with 14 strikes.
Valskis is just one goal shy of ATK’s Roy Krishna, who is level with Kerala Blasters’ Bartholomew Ogbeche in the race for the Golden Boot. Both Krishna and Valskis will be aiming to score and steal a march over the other and help their side attain glory.
While Valskis has netted freely, the Brazilian midfielder Crivellaro has provided the creative brilliance with eight goals and seven assists. His nifty footwork, dribbling and ability to pick a pass has been pivotal to Chennaiyin FC’s good work going forward. And the audacious is also not beyond him, scoring a 55-yard wonder goal against NorthEast United FC in January. Crivellaro also scored and assisted a goal each in the 3-1 win over ATK in Kolkata last month.
Experienced Maltese forward Schembri, who will be playing his last football match after announcing his retirement following a 13-year-career, has been an underratedly vital cog in the Chennaiyin FC machinery with five goals and three assists.
Moreover, Chennaiyin FC’s Indian contingent has delivered with Chhangte the second-highest Indian goalscorer with 7 goals this season; the most by an Indian from open play too. Anirudh Thapa has contributed with six assists and one goal while striking an impressive partnership in midfield with Edwin Vanspaul and Germanpreet Singh.
And ever since the arrival of Coyle, Chennaiyin FC’s full-backs in Laldinliana Renthlei and Jerry Lalrinzuala have found a new lease of life and performed consistently well.
In terms of team news for the final, Chennaiyin FC have no fresh injury concerns after the semi-final second-leg against Goa.
For ATK, along with Krishna’s 15 goals, the likes of David Williams, Edu Garcia and Tamil Nadu winger Michael Soosairaj has been key going forward. Chennaiyin FC will particularly have to guard against ATK’s Prabir Das and his crossing, the Kolkata local assisting twice in the semifinals second-leg against Bengaluru FC. But in contrast to Chennaiyin FC’s attack-minded approach, ATK’s success and second-placed league finish was down to their defensive stability.
ATK’s backline has the league’s second-best defensive record with nine clean sheets this season, their keeper Arindam Bhattacharya in fine form. The final could very well be decided by ATK’s solidity or the lack of it at the back. Chennaiyin FC can take faith from their display when both sides last faced each other in the league. Goals from Crivellaro, Schembri and Valskis gave Chennaiyin FC a deserved 3-1 win last month in Kolkata. In the fixture in Chennai earlier on, ATK ran away 1-0 winners thanks to Williams’ fortuitous goal.
A matter of pride for Tamil Nadu football also is that four players from the state could be involved in the final. While Dhanpal Ganesh has not been involved yet, him along with the effective Edwin Vanspaul and ATK’s sibling duo of Michael Soosairaj and Michael Regin will provide inspiration to youngsters from the state, playing in such a showpiece game.
With the final set to be a unique affair without any spectators, all eyes will be firmly on the action playing out on the pitch. It will be telecast live on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar & JioTV with kick-off at 7:30pm.