A step away from securing a berth in the play-offs, former champions Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) will be hungry to improve their lacklustre home record this season when they face an improved Kerala Blasters FC in the league stages of Indian Super League in Kolkata on Tuesday.
Placed third with 18 points from 12 matches, the inaugural edition champions can secure a top-four finish with a draw but a bigger concern for coach Jose Molina is that they have only been able to get past Delhi Dynamos FC at home this season. ATK have two more home matches left in the league stage.
The Kolkata side will face Pune City FC in their last home match on December 2 and prior to that Molina has made his intentions clear.
“I’m sure you will always like a 5-0 or 5-1 result. Not just against Kerala but against all teams. But even if we win 1-0, everyone will like it as well. The most important thing is to win,” Molina told reporters ahead of their penultimate round match of the league.
ATK incidentally enjoy a superior head-to-head record against both Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United FC, while only one of those team can overtake second placed Delhi Dynamos’ points tally as they battle amongst themselves in the concluding league clash.
Based on current form, ATK will be favourites to become the third team to book their place.
“The work that these players have been doing since day one gives me confidence. They are working really hard. They are improving. They are trying to do their best and help the team,” said Molina.
ATK scored a last-gasp 2-1 victory against FC Goa in their last match. It was a match they dominated and deserved to score more goals, a fact that was emphasised by the Spanish coach.
“We had a great match in Goa. We could have scored more goals but I think the players now are not bothered about anyone. It doesn’t matter which teams is in front of us. It’s all the same. We try to dominate the game, defend well and score as many goals as possible,” he said.
Going into their last two league games, ATK are sweating on the fitness of star midfielder Sameehg Doutie, besides Stephen Pearson and Lalrindika Ralte.
Down with fever, the South African mideo did not train with the team today, while Lalrindika and Pearson have not yet recovered from injuries.
Kerala Blasters have done well to reach the fourth spot for now after collecting just a point from their first three matches.
A win for Kerala Blasters will take them closer to the semi-final spot, although they will not be guaranteed a top four place as they are dependent on head-to-head record of teams who can reach 21 points like ATK, Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United FC.
“We feel we are in a decent position (to qualify) and Kolkata will feel the same. There is an awful lot to play for tomorrow (Tuesday) night. We are looking forward to it. It’s coming to the meaty end of the season. You need to try and play your very best (during) these last couple of games,” Kerala Blasters coach Steve Coppell said.
Despite Coppell’s confidence, Kerala Blasters will have to remain guarded against the hosts.
Kerala are on a four-match winning streak at home but have failed to impress in away games.
They have not won any of their last three away matches and have conceded 10 goals away from home, a record that is bettered only by bottom-placed teams like Chennaiyin FC (12) and FC Goa (12).
Worryingly, Kerala Blasters have failed to score in four of their six away games and scored only three away goals, the lowest by any team.
“Three points are important for both teams. Kolkata have been unlucky in few of the games which they have drawn. They have powerful forwards and we will have to be at our best to get anything out of the game,” Coppell said.