ATK square off against arch-rivals Chennaiyin in Hero Super Cup semi-finals
The second semi-final of the Hero Super Cup 2019 will pit two former Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions - ATK and Chennaiyin FC - against each other at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday. Both sides had a somewhat disappointing Hero ISL 2018-19 campaign and will be eager to end the season on a high by reaching the final of the knockout competition and hopefully winning the title.
Given the prevalent rivalry between the two sides and a spot in the Hero Super Cup 2019 on offer, expect both sides to go all out in their bid to emerge as the victors.
After struggling in front of goal throughout the season, Steve Coppell's side has been in fine touch in the Hero Super Cup, scoring seven goals in their two outings so far. Striker Balwant Singh has been in terrific form, scoring four of these seven, including a brilliant hat-trick against Delhi Dynamos FC in the quarter-finals. Balwant's performance helped ATK see off a stern challenge from the Lions in the previous match and the 32-year-old is expected to play a key role yet again on Wednesday, spearheading ATK's attack.
Apart from Balwant, midfielders Manuel Lanzarote and Jayesh Rane, too, have been in fine touch and will be a handful for the Chennaiyin defence in Wednesday's tie.
After a thoroughly disappointing Hero ISL 2018-19, which saw them finish bottom of the table, Chennaiyin are enjoying a mini-resurgence of sorts. John Gregory's men are unbeaten in their last five matches in the AFC Cup and the Hero Super Cup. A key factor behind their recent upturn in form has been the defence, which, after a tumultuous Hero ISL campaign, seems to have finally found their feet and have let in just one goal in those five outings. Mailson Alves has been the centre-piece of the team's backline and also poses a potent goal threat from set-pieces, as demonstrated by his goal against NorthEast in the last match. Dhanpal Ganesh's return from injury has added some much-needed steel to Chennaiyin's midfield - an aspect which was a glaring miss during the Hero ISL.
However, the lynchpin of the team in the last few matches has been Anirudh Thapa. The youngster has been thoroughly impressive of late, pulling the strings from the midfield and taking over the role of the side's creative impetus with grace and authority. The 21-year-old's technical abilities have shone through in the last few matches and against a strong ATK midfield, Thapa's influence on the tie can very well turn out to be the deciding factor of the match.