Former champions ATK would look to get back to winning ways at home when they take on bottom-placed FC Pune City in a seventh-round Indian Super League clash at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Saturday.
ATK are seventh in the ISL standings and have only managed to muster seven points from their six outings. The two-time champions suffered their third home defeat last week when they went down 2-1 to Bengaluru FC. ATK have only beaten Chennaiyin FC at home, 2-1.
Kolkata's forward Kalu Uche has sustained a muscle injury.
Coming to Pune, they got off to the worst possible start to their ISL campaign this time. They lost four out of their first six matches.
Deemed as title favourites before the start of the season, Pune have so far failed to live up to the expectations, leaking 15 goals in six matches.
Off the field, Pune had problems too with Marcos Paqueta, who was roped in to replace coach Ranko Popovic, leaving within a week to join Brazilian club Botafogo. Pune then signed former Delhi Dynamos manager Miguel Angel Portugal but the Spaniard departed after a hat-trick of losses.
Technical director Pradyum Reddy has since been made the interim manager but they are still in search of their first win, having conceded 15 goals in six matches.
Enjoying a 5-1 head-to head record against ATK, the Stallions will look to continue their dominance over the Kolkata side.
SQUAD: Steve Coppell's side have been inconsistent so far and their star-studded attack force which consists of players like Manuel Lanzarote, Kalu Uche and Balwant Singh are yet to fire on all cylinders.
Like any other Coppell's team, ATK have not been flamboyant in the attacking third but unlike some of the other teams he has managed in India, they have failed to keep a clean sheet this season.
For the hosts, Under-17 World Cupper Komal Thatal has been impressive and in the last outing, broke through the high profile Bengaluru FC defence to give ATK the lead.
ATK go into the fixture against Pune without star playmaker Marcelo Pereira, who will be suspended for the match for a red card offence in their last outing against Chennaiyin FC. Reddy will also miss the services of striker Diego Carlos, who is serving an extended suspension for his sending off due to a dangerous tackle on FC Goa's Seriton Fernandes during Pune's match against the Gaurs on 28th October. Midfielder Marko Stankovic, too, will be unavailable for selection as he is yet to recover fully from the injury he sustained in the match against Kerala Blasters FC.
For ATK, the defence has been a major area of concern and their backline have failed to register a single clean-sheet this season despite boasting the likes of John Johnson, Gerson Vieira, Sena Ralte and Aiborland Khongjee in their ranks. They have especially faltered in the face of set pieces and five of the eight goals they conceded came from set pieces.
In attack, ATK have scored only six goals in as many outings. To add to their woes, Kalu Uche is out till January at least with a muscle injury. However, Coppell do have attacking talents up front, the youngest of which, 18-year-old Komal Thatal has cemented his place in the starting XI with his performances.
As for Pune, the suspensions limit Reddy's options up front, and he will, in all likelihood, have to rely on out-of-form forward Emiliano Alfaro to be the focal point of his attack on the night. Alfaro has managed to score once this season, but has botched two penalty kicks and has an unenviable shot accuracy of 33.33 per cent this season, despite attempting almost 2.5 shots per game. The Uruguayan was dropped from the starting XI in Pune’s last match, but is expected to make a comeback considering the lack of options up front.
The state of the defence, too, will do little to put Pune fans at ease. As mentioned above, Pune are the only side besides ATK who have failed to register a single clean sheet this season. The lack of pace in the backline makes the Stallions' defence particularly susceptible to fast counterattacks, something ATK will try and take advantage of with Thatal and Balwant Singh's pace out wide.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: ATK and Pune City have faced each other eight times out of which Pune have won five matches while ATK have won just one match.
FORM: ATK suffered a terrible start to the season when they lost their opening two fixtures, but Steve Coppell's men have since embarked on a much-better journey during which they have picked seven points in three matches. This was before Bengaluru FC beat them 2-1 despite Coppell's men taking the lead.
This season, so far, ATK have scored six goals from 23 shots on target. They have the passing accuracy of 60.5 per cent and haven't been able to keep a clean-sheet.
FC Pune City have had a nightmarish start to Hero ISL 2018-19, picking up just two points from a possible 18 in their first six matches and have scored six goals from 25 shots on target. They have the passing accuracy of 64.23 per cent and have not been able to keep a cleansheet.
ATK: Arindam Bhattacharja (GK), Aiborlang Khongjee, Gerson Vieira, John Johnson, Ricky Lallawmawma, Pronay Halder, El Maimouni Noussair, Everton Santos, Komal Thatal, Manuel Lanzarote (C), Balwant Singh.
FC Pune City: Kamaljit Singh (GK), Gurtej Singh (C), Matt Mills, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Martin Diaz, Adil Khan, Jonathan Vila, Sarthak Golui, Ashique Kuruniyan, Robin Singh, Emiliano Alfaro