With merely five rounds left for the conclusion of an increasingly unpredictable group stage of the Indian Super League this season, the ISL points table is finally starting to take permanent shape. Matchday 13 again threw up a few upsets, which means that any predictions we make are futile at the beginning of each round. While now there is daylight between defending champions and a currently disastrous ATK and present leaders Bengaluru FC (14 points), the race for the top 4 is perhaps in its most important week of the season. There are seven teams still in with a chance to make the playoffs – especially with newcomers Jamshedpur FC and long-time finalists Kerala Blasters peaking at the right time.
Let’s take a look at some of the talking points before a crucial Matchday 14:
MATCH OF THE WEEK
It’s normal to expect exciting matches between two desperate contenders at this business end of the season. But this week’s best game came between the ever-attacking and freewheeling Spain-heavy FC Goa and Avram Grant’s rejuvenated NorthEast United, who are now in a position to soon overtake the struggling ATK to finish in the eighth position. It’s safe to say Grant will be happy with his team after they took a point from their match with the most exciting team in the league. Goa coach Sergio Lobero might be disappointed with the 2-2 draw, given that his team now has some very tough fixtures coming up against all the teams above them. This should have been a win, especially given the attacking prowess of Corominas and Lanzarote, and by now Goa should have been fighting for the top spot against Bengaluru and Chennaiyin FC. But 2018 has not been kind to this team – they have won only 2 of their 6 matches. Much like Liverpool in the EPL, Goa’s world-class attacking has been nullified by some silly defending and they continue to be the highest scorers as well as conceders in the top half of the ISL table. The next few weeks will decide if their caution-to-the-wind style manages to get a consistency that helps them make the playoffs – because, on their day, they are the most destructive team this year. Goa is now in the fifth position, with a game in hand. They have to win at least four of their last six matches to finish in the top two and upset the South Indian applecart.
Prediction: Win away against Bengaluru, draw home to Chennaiyin, win home against Delhi Dynamos, lose away to Pune City
NEWBIES DAY OUT
Both new additions to the ISL, Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC had a fantastic week. Jamshedpur, in fact, has won 4 of their last 5 matches, losing only one to Pune City FC – enjoying a superb rise in 2018 after starting off slow. What Goa would pay to have their defense force! They continued their terrific form by defeating an unpredictable Mumbai City FC away 2-1, despite lesser possession, with Bikash Jairu scoring a late 84th-minute winner after Mumbai’s prolific Santos had equalized. This unconvincing win for the otherwise-solid Jamshedpur may turn out to be crucial for the battle to finish in the top 4 – with Mumbai unable to capitalize on their exciting 4-3 victory over Goa last week, and now falling to 7th place – 10 full points behind the leader. Steve Coppell’s side is now fourth in the league, equal on points with a struggling Pune. Goa is virtually the only team that will now challenge Jamshedpur’s sudden rise. Meanwhile, Bengaluru continued their merry march, opening a 4-point lead above Chennaiyin before facing them on Tuesday in what will be a mouth-watering top-of-table clash between the rivals. Despite losing Rahul Bheku to a red card with twenty minutes to go, they still managed to score a second goal against a very weak ATK side at the Salt Lake Stadium, winning 2-0 eventually. Despite simultaneously competing in the AFC Cup (and doing well), Bengaluru is on a 3-game winning streak in the ISL after losing to Dynamos in January.
Prediction: Chennaiyin could beat the high-flying but tired Chhetri-led side to cut the lead to just 1 point at the top.
A BLASTER DAY
Kerala Blasters continued their topsy-turvy 2018, by upsetting Pune City FC and preventing them from going second in the table. And the Blasters did it in the most breathtaking way possible – with the ever-reliable CK Vineeth scoring a last-gasp injury-time winner to hand his team a much-needed win. A draw here might have meant curtains for David James’ team, but after Pune’s Marcelinho hit the post twice, the Blasters capitalized to forward their coach’s dream of winning every game left. They are now level on points with Goa but have played two games more. With their next game scheduled against ATK and then NorthEast United, they will fancy their chances of going on an underdog streak and crash the top-table party.
Matches to look forward to:
1) Chennaiyin FC vs Bengaluru FC
Date: Feb 6, 2018
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2) Bengaluru FC vs FC Goa
Date: Feb 9, 2018
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