After back-to-back stalemates, NorthEast United will be looking to get their chase for the playoffs back underway when they host ATK at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.
Both teams are on an unbeaten run of four games and while NorthEast were held to draws by Jamshedpur and Bengaluru in their last two fixtures, ATK’s visit will be on the back of a thrilling 3-2 victory on the road to Chennaiyin.
NorthEast are third on the league table with 19 points after 10 matches. ATK are not far behind, at 6 place with 15 points after the same number of rounds. The Highlanders’ best ever points tally in the ISL was way back in 2015 when they finished fifth with 20 points. A win on Saturday will make it their best ever ISL season, something Schattorie will be keen to achieve in order to highlight the progress the team has made under him.
In their last match, the Highlanders dominated and would have handed Bengaluru their first defeat of the season if not for an acrobatic injury-time equaliser by Chencho Gyeltshen. Despite the late equaliser, Schattorie will have had plenty of positives to note down from the match.
However, the Dutchman is concerned about fatigue building up, given this will be his team’s third match in eight days.
“I am worried that my biggest opponent tomorrow is fatigue. My goal is to stay in the top four but it is a huge task. Jamshedpur, Bengaluru and ATK have the same structure of defending. They all play 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, it’s almost the same. But their offensive strategy is completely different from all the other teams. So for us, it will be difficult to open. But at least we had two games in row which are similar to ATK before this. So the players are used to that,” shared Schattorie.
Uruguayan playmaker Federico Gallego’s form should be of heartening for the coach. He has been their engine so far with three goals and five assists. Statistically, he is the league’s best midfielder so far and Steve Coppell will have a job in hand to figure limiting his impact.
ATK do have an answer to the guile and creativity in Manuel Lanzarote who had a stellar outing against Chennaiyin FC in their previous game where he converted two penalties. Coppell would be hoping for the Spaniard to build on that performance.
ATK’s season has been swinging like a pendulum. After losing their first two games this season, Steve Coppell’s team has had mixed results.
“Sometimes it takes time to get to know to your squad. You need to know the key components of the team, finding the right combination and the variety of the team. You gather knowledge about the squad as the season progresses,” said Coppell.
But to their credit, they have only lost one match since their second-round loss to NorthEast United earlier this season (1-0).
“I certainly think both sides have improved since then. NorthEast have certainly grown in confidence. They have been winning games, they are a solid team, well disciplined. Credit to the coach. Where they are in the league is not an accident. It will be a real tough game and I hope it will be a good game for the fans to watch.”
ATK’s full-backs Ricky and Ankit Mukherjee have both performed admirably but will be up against the equally impressive duo of Redeem Tlang and Lalthathanga Khawlhring.
With both the wide areas and the centre packed with exciting one-on-one contests, the winner of the tie will have to exude brilliance on the field to have an edge.