Failure to deal with set pieces led to the downfall of NorthEast United

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NorthEast United are now winless in five games …

After playing nine games, ATK Mohun Bagan is at the top of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 table with 20 points. They are one point ahead of second-placed Mumbai City, who has a game in hand.

As the Mariners extended their unbeaten streak to five games with a 2-0 win over NorthEast United on Sunday, they also served the rest of the league a reminder.

The match against the Highlanders figuratively had the words ‘stagnation’ written all over the place. It was always going to be a battle between two teams that thrived when they defended deeply and countered their opponents.

Before the game started, among all ISL teams this season, Bagan’s passing numbers and passing accuracy were the lowest. Their NorthEast United opponents had an average possession of 42, the lowest by a team this season.

It was a slow start as expected and the first half passed without the goalkeepers being tested. The Northeast defense did a decent job of containing the likes of Roy Krishna and David Williams. At the other extreme, Carl McHugh was once against being heavily involved in everything Bagan did in his own half.

Bagan pushed mainly through the right flank with Prabir Das prowling up and down the field against Provat Lakra. He was found in space several times in the first half, but failed to make the most of his opportunities. On the opposite flank, Ashutosh Mehta was doing a good job keeping David Williams quiet, but the control lasted only until the break.

In the 51st minute, Tiri took an Edu Garcia corner kick in the way of Roy Krishna, who headed in the first goal. Seven minutes later, another Garcia corner found Sandesh Jhingan in the center of the area, but this time Benjamin Lambot put the ball into his own net as he tried to clear the danger. In seven minutes, a close scoreless contest became a one-sided affair.

ATK Mohun Bagan

Kwesi Appiah’s injury meant that Nus was dependent on Idryssa Sylla, who was clueless in the final third and did not have enough support. Bagan’s defense blocked their half after taking a two-goal lead. The Highlanders had to work hard to get back in the game and they just couldn’t.

Federico Gallego’s deliveries in the area were the only danger Bagan had to deal with, but even they were out of place. The only real attempt by the Uruguayan was a free kick that hit the crossbar. Nus made a change of attack in the 77th minute when he brought in Luis Machado in place of Khassa Camara, but by then it was too late as Habas’s men had taken over the field.

The Highlanders had plenty of time to get back into the game in the second half, but their response was puzzling. There was little intention to upset Arindam Bhattacharya, who only had to deal with a direct shot on goal the entire game.

Gerard Nus has a lot to think about given NorthEast United have only won a single game in their last eight ISL outings. As they struggle to score goals, like most ISL teams, their defense has also been shaky. The Spanish team is struggling to replicate or build on its early season promise. They need to start scoring points as soon as possible as the other teams are starting to close the gap with them.

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