The fourth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) is slated to kickstart on November 17. The opening match will take place between two-time champions Atletico de Kolkata and two-time runners-up Kerala Blasters.
ISL is now the top-most tier in Indian football.
- A restructured format this year will see 10 instead of 8 teams participate in the league stages. The Tata-owned Jamshedpur FC and Federation Cup Champions FC Bengaluru are the new entrants. The ISL 2017 schedule, too, has been extended to last up to 5 months instead of the 3 (as in the last three editions). It will run from November to March.
- The first three seasons had 61 matches each. ISL 2017 will have a total of 95 matches.
- There is no marquee player system this season. The maximum number of foreign players in the playing 11 has been capped from six to five.
- Each team can sign up to 17 Indian players now, up from the usual 14. Only two Indians above the age of 21 could be retained from last season.
- The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has granted official status to the ISL, which means that the teams have more to play for than just silverware. They stand to gain a spot in the AFC Cup.
- Atletico de Kolkata has won two out of the three editions of ISL so far. In each winning tournament, they have only won 5 out of their 17 games. They have drawn more games (17) than any other side and thrive on defense. They won 2016 final against Blasters on penalties.
- Irish legend and all-time top scorer Robbie Keane is the biggest signing of ISL 2017. He will most likely captain champions Atletico de Kolkata. The 37-year-old is an English Premier League veteran and has played 349 top-flight matches.
- Five-time EPL winner and two-time Champions League winner Wes Brown is Kerala Blasters’ main signing this year. Brown was a permanent fixture in the back line under Alex Ferguson; he played more than 230 games for Manchester United.
- There will be seven new coaches in ISL 2017. Steve Coppell has left Kerala Blasters to join new club Jamshedpur FC. The most significant change is that of champions Kolkata, who have hired United legend Teddy Sheringham as their new coach, replacing title-winning Spaniard Jose Francisco Molina.
- Indian captain and star striker Sunil Chhetri is the captain of FC Bengaluru. Chhetri scored 49 goals in 4 seasons of the I-League, twice of which his team finished as champions.
- Kerala Blasters’ Iain Hume is the ISL all-time top scorer so far, with 23 goals in his three seasons. But he has never topped in any of the three, finishing third, second and second. Chennaiyin FC’s Jeje Lalpekhlua is the Indian top scorer with 14 goals to his name. Hume has also played the maximum amount of matches: 46.
- Mumbai City FC goalie Amrinder Singh is the ISL’s most expensive goalkeeper this year. He won the Golden Glove Award in ISL 2016, with five clean sheets to his name in just six appearances, as his team reached the semifinals.
- ATK is the only team to finish in the top 4 in the group stages of all three seasons. But they are yet to finish first – finishing fourth, second and fourth in ISL 2014, 2015 and 2016.
- Each of the 10 teams will play 18 matches in the home-and-away league format. The semifinals will be two-legged, between the top four teams.
- The opening ceremony on November 17 will feature superstars Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.
- Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters have faced each other in two out of three finals, with Kolkata winning both. With new coaches for both consistent teams, this rivalry, which starts with the opening game, could just be the talking point of another season.
- FC Goa, who finished last in ISL 2016 after topping the group stage in the season before that, will extend their rivalry against Chennaiyin FC, another team that underwhelmed last season after becoming champions in 2015. The two teams will look to take off from two seasons ago – both with new coaches that might take forward the fire between Zico and Marco Materazzi’s stint in 2015.
- Another major rivalry in the offing is the Jamshedpur vs Kerala contest. Successful ex-Blasters coach Steve Coppell has been roped in by the newcomers, while many ex-Blasters players including Kervens Belford have signed on for the Tata-owned team.
- The Blasters again can be in the midst of a searing new rivalry, as newcomers elite-league Bengaluru FC look to have their own little South Indian derby with their promotion to the first tier.