The fourth edition of the Hero Indian Super League is now in its thirteenth week of the group stages – the fourth month of domestic football. This is unprecedented in the country and its longevity seems to be equally engaging, given that ten teams will continue to participate in a well-planned ISL schedule. As with every good tournament, endurance is the hallmark of the better teams. As we move into the business end of the group stages, and just when we thought we had the trends and playoff spots figured out, Matchday 12 threw us a curveball in the form of some stunning results:
AMAR BUKREY ATK NO MORE
Defending champions Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) have messed up their lines in the 2017-18 ISL in a way that they have now become a handbook in how not to build upon a successful team. Interim coach Ashley Westwood cut a forlorn figure on the sidelines as his ragtag team slipped to two consecutive home defeats this week – against Chennaiyin FC 1-2 and Jamshedpur FC 0-1 (should have been 0-5). These were his first two matches in charge of the team. The Salt Lake Stadium was left gasping for air as their favorite footballing sons, a week after dumping coach Teddy Sheringham, fell further into the abyss with two disappointing defensive performances. First, they blew a one-goal lead against the South Indian top-of-the-table team because of some frail goalkeeping, and then they made Jamshedpur – the defensive experts in the league – look like Barcelona, despite just a penalty shot separating the teams. ATK’s title defense has effectively ended with this disaster-prone week, as they now lie 7 points adrift of fourth-placed FC Goa despite having played an extra game. 8 losses in 12 games mean that they are now in a battle with NorthEast United FC for ninth place.
A MUMBAI STATE OF MIND
In perhaps the upset of the week, and the most exciting game of January, the Islanders won their first game of 2018 by winning a 7-goal thriller and pulling the double over rivals FC Goa – whose aggressive, no-holds-barred football left them vulnerable to a counter-attack and one player less in the second half at the Fatorda Stadium. Goa missed an opportunity to defeat a down-on-confidence Mumbai team and make itself one of the favorites to finish above Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC at the top. That might be good for the game, given the brand of breathtaking Spanish football they have come to advertise. But it was the second booking and sendoff of defender Seriton Fernandes that changed the game within minutes of the second half. A 2-1 lead going into the break wasn’t enough for the hosts, whose leading striker Corominas added a brace in a losing cause. The 10-men Goa struggled to contain Mumbai after the 48th minute, and soon fell 2-3 behind by the 70th minute after Thiago’s brace. Yet, Corominas added another to equalize 8 minutes later, and instead of defending this equalizer, the Goan side went for broke, leaving misfiring striker Balwant Singh to score the winner five minutes from time. This was a crucial win for Mumbai, as it kept them in the hunt for a playoff spot after a terrible month on the field. There is only a two-point gap between fourth-placed Goa, fifth-placed Jamshedpur, sixth-placed Mumbai and seventh-placed Kerala Blasters now – making for the ISL table’s most fascinating and desperate battle going into the final stages. All four of them can finish fourth, with Goa still the favorites with games in hand.
A DARK PUNE HORSE
FC Pune City enjoyed a fantastic four days, as they went from demolishing ATK last week to mounting a comeback against Jamshedpur FC (2-1) on Wednesday to get them their second consecutive win on the bounce after a disappointing start to the year. Ranko Popovic’s Orange Army hit back in the second half with two goals in four minutes, and penetrated perhaps the best defensive team of the tournament to stay secure in third place in the ISL table, just one point behind Chennaiyin and two points behind Bengaluru. It will be a close fight to finish on top, given that even Goa are three points behind Pune with a game in hand. Nobody will bet against Pune to finish in the top two, especially if they can carry forward their momentum to pull off a hat-trick of wins against the Kerala Blasters on Friday night.
Important games on Matchday 13:
2) Chennaiyin FC vs Bengaluru FC (February 6th): The leaders’ Tuesday derby will go a long way in deciding who will top the table.
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