Kolkata, February 16, 2020: It’s the battle of the two-times champions of the Hero Indian Super League when ATK FC welcome Chennaiyin FC at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday evening.
Head Coach Owen Coyle shared his excitement and eagerness for the fixture at the customary pre-match press conference, saying, “ATK and Chennaiyin are two-times champions of the ISL for a reason – because of the infrastructure and the good people at the club. It speaks volumes about both clubs.”
“ATK have a wonderful team, an outstanding coach, so we are respectful. We aren’t fearful of coming here though. It’s an outstanding stadium, the pitch looks good and we’re really looking forward to the match.”
The fixture will see two in-form teams collide with CFC and ATK taking 13 and 12 points respectively from their previous 15. ATK are chasing top spot along with FC Goa that will guarantee AFC Champions League football while CFC are hopeful of finishing 4th and playing in the ISL semis yet again.
And it will be a huge boost for Coyle to have Indian midfielder Anirudh Thapa back from suspension. “Thapa is back from suspension. He’s been outstanding for us. We should be close to full strength for this game. We’ve shown that if we’re at our very best, we can cause problems to any defence.”
“From a team that scored 4 goals in 6 games to where we are now, it’s there for everyone to see. Yes, we didn’t score against Bengaluru FC but we are a potent strike force now. We’ve shown we can score goals and be entertaining.”
It will also be an evening when two of the top-scorers in the league share the same pitch, as ATK’s Roy Krishna (13 goals) and CFC’s Nerijus Valskis (12 goals) aim to add to their tallies. And in that regard, Coyle weighed in.
“ATK over the course of the season certainly have had the best attack. The games we’ve been incharge of CFC, we’ve been pretty close to that, with the goals we’ve scored in that period.”
“Not just Roy Krishna, ATK have some wonderful pieces overall. So we have to find a way to deal with that (ATK’s attack) and understand the threat they have. We didn’t score the other night but to get the clean sheet against BFC will give the boys at the back a lot of confidence. It should be a quality game between two attack-minded sides.”
Chennaiyin have come leaps and bounds under Coyle and his Assistant Coach Sandy Stewart, from bottom of the table to fighting for top spot with their destiny in their own hands with three games to go.
Asked about what he’s done different since coming in, Coyle replied, “We’ve shown that with some good players and what we (Owen & Sandy) bring to the table, we can win games. But to win the game, we have to be at our very best.”
“We believe in the collective group. When we came in, we had to quickly find that formula and way of playing that suited the group we have. We certainly think there are some very good players here. The other important thing is that draws and one points were never going to be enough for us. We had to find a way of winning games and doing it in an enjoyable manner.”
“The foreign players get loads of accolades but I’ve found it so enjoyable to work with the Indian players. They’re only getting better. And I surely believe the more time we spend with them, it’ll help them to develop and grow.”
Coyle was joined by Anirudh Thapa who is set to make his 50th ISL appearance against ATK. And the gaffer had choice words of praise for him.
“The young man to my left (Thapa) is one of them. I have said this before, and I don’t mean to embarrass him, but for me he is the best Indian midfielder in the league. He is so young and he has scope to be even better. But that is up to Thapa himself.”
“As much as we can impart a bit of our experience and wisdom, the person that deserves the credit is the player himself. They are the ones who have to cross the white line and perform. Thapa has such potential, he listens and wants to get better. He wants to be a big part of Chennaiyin FC’s future and also wants to be a key player for the national team.”
Despite singling out a few, Coyle reiterated that CFC’s strength is as a collective force going into the crucial run-in.
“We have good individual players but our strength has been as a group. Whenever anyone has had an injury or suspension, others have come in and made an impact. The boys have really stepped up. Young Dinliana (Laldinliana Renthlei) has been a fantastic full-back, Edwin (Vanspaul) has done well after moving into the midfield. Andre (Schembri) has been so effective in the forward areas, (Lallianzuala) Chhangte has been getting better and better. Jerry (Lalrinzuala), who was out of the team when I came in, has been excellent. The person who plays one or two games in this squad is as good as someone who plays 18 matches. I think what we have brought in is a real sense of unity and team spirit,” he concluded.