The 2020-21 edition of the Indian Super League has so far lived up to the expectations of the fans and even exceeded them at times. From the entry of new side SC East Bengal to some phenomenal football from Mumbai City FC, this season been highly entertaining.
All the teams have played 10 matches each, marking the half-way point in the tournament. Mentioned below are a few key takeaways from how the season has gone so far, and what can we expect in the second leg of the matches.
Mumbai, ATK are on the path to dominate
Sergio Lobera led Mumbai City FC started the Indian Super League with one of the strongest squads on paper. Management handpicked top players and key performers from last seasons to build a team worthy of the title chase. And boy, did they get it.
Bartholomew Ogbeche and Hugo Boumous were among the top 3 strikers last season, both of whom are absolutely killing it with the Islanders. The additional signings of Hernan and Le Fondre have only further bolstered a strong attack.
The end result of this is right in front of us – Mumbai have scored an astonishing 16 goals already – the highest in the league. In their 9 games so far, they have lost just 1 match and won 7 along the way.
Defensively too, the team is having a good time as Amrinder Singh has kept 5 clean sheets already this season – just 2 shy of ATK Mohun Bagan’s 7. The side leads the league table with 22 points.
As for ATK Mohun Bagan, they aren’t too far off either. They sit at the 2nd place with 20 points, having conceded just 3 goals in the entire season.
Antonio Lopez Habas, before the merger, were the defending champions and it is good to see that not a lot has changed for them afterwards either. The team has relied on its solid defence to get the job done but some may say that this approach may not be feasible in the long run.
From a goals perspective, Roy Krishna has contributed to over 50% of the team’s goals (10) this season. The priority for the team should be to introduce some more variation in the attack so they have a reliable backup.
Hyderabad FC can surprise
The Nizams made their ISL debut last season and finished at the bottom of the table. This time around, they have climbed up to the 3rd place with 15 points. Impressively, they have lost just 3 matches in the 10 played so far.
Manuel Roca led Hyderabad FC have scored 15 goals this season – 2nd highest in the league. Adriane Santana and Halicharan Narzary are leading the way for goals with 9 goals between them already. 22-year-old Indian striker Liston Colaco is also starting to impress.
The side has also been quite entertaining with their last couple of wins coming over Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United FC with 4-1 and 4-2 respectively.
However, the defence is one department where the team needs work. They have conceded 13 already and will need to evaluate their tactics in the back. The team has also strengthened its midfield with the winter signing of Roland Alberg, giving Roca plenty of options to rotate and experiment.
Mid-table is in chaos
By looks of things, two of the four playoffs position are still up for grabs. Teams ranked beyond 5th place – Jamshedpur FC, Bengaluru FC, NorthEast United, Chennaiyin, and SC East Bengal are separated from each other by a single point or two.
This means that a few good matches and any of them may well move up in the top 4.
Clearly, many of these teams have been truly unpredictable so anything can happen.
For example, Bengaluru FC are having their worst-run in the Indian Super League history, having now lost 4 matches consecutively. Their miseries are only exacerbated with a 1-0 defeat to the newbie SC East Bengal. Their coach Carles Cuadrat has also left and the team is now managed in the interim by Naushad Moosa.
Chennaiyin FC find themselves in a similar rut too, after undergoing a complete overhaul at the start of the season. These teams with incredible pedigrees are now struggling to show results, something that fans would expect to change soon.
An honourable mention to SCEB, who started the season on a disastrous note but are looking lively with every game. Robbie Fowler’s East Bengal is eyeing a comeback from the depths of the bottom. They recently beat Bengaluru FC and Odisha FC while drawing FC Goa and CFC.
They have not lost a match in their last 5 and look good to move up further.
Is it too late for Odisha and Kerala Blasters?
Odisha and KBFC have had a season to forget in the ISL. They have conceded 35 goals between the two, with Kerala Blasters leading the way with 19.
The identity crisis continues for these two teams as they struggle to get positive results. The Juggernauts are at the bottom with 6 points whereas the Tuskers are at the 10th place with 9.
Now, this isn’t to say that neither of them are capable of staging a heroic comeback. Chennaiyin laid the precedent last season when they were rescued by Owen Coyle from the bottom to the top four and eventual runners-up.
Odisha FC have got good players in Marcelinho, Diego Mauricio, and Cole Alexander. Stuart Baxter is a veteran of the sport and he has the skills needed to guide them upwards. Kerala, too, have it in them as they showed in their recent 3-2 win over Jamshedpur FC.
Will fatigue and toneless schedule play a role?
Amidst everything that is going on right now, it can be easy to forget that all the matches are taking place within strict player bubbles and safety measures. There is a certain repetition to it all which can easily creep into one’s psyche and impact their form. We are roughly 7 weeks into the tournament and it wouldn’t be surprising if we start seeing some cracks emerge in the picture.
After all, playing the matches at the same 3 venues while staying at the same places and following a similar routine can get exhausting after one point in time. The real challenge for the teams and managers will be to address this issue and nip it in the bud.
In fact, FC Goa boss Juan Ferrando was not happy with the tough schedule back in December when the Gaurs had to play 4 games in 11 days.
Variation in playing XI, player fitness, and keeping the team’s morale up will be some of the few things that will need to be looked into before they can start diving into the advanced tactical stuff.
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