It’s here! The final week of the group stages of Indian Super League 4 is here. What started more than four months ago will culminate in the next seven days, over a round of matches – two rounds for some teams – that will make the ISL points table go down to the wire. And as is the case with the world’s most competitive football domestic leagues, the writing is still not on the wall. Except for the Sunil Chhetri-led FC Bengaluru (this is their first ever ISL season), none of the other seven teams have managed to seal the playoff position. Safe to say, this is how the fans want it.
As the penultimate MatchDay began to unravel on Wednesday with Goa taking on the bottom-placed Delhi, it became clear that there were no favorites. Two red cards and plenty of goals later, the battle rages into the final week – MatchDay 18.
Let’s take a look at the results from last week, with final-week predictions and scenarios for the potential Top 4:
GO GOA NOT GONE
FC Goa’s season took a hit in 2018 after they started as the most aggressive and exciting ISL team in the league. As they were constantly two rounds behind, they played catch-up and disintegrated in February – losing to both FC Bengaluru and Chennaiyin FC before coming into their match against the resurgent Delhi Dynamos. They drew with the Dynamos – who have been the second-best team this month after Bengaluru – after blowing a Hugo Boumous-inflicted lead, by conceding in the final ten minutes. This single point should have spelled the end of their sputtering campaign. Yet, somehow, all the results contrived to hand them a second chance. And boy, did they take it! Goa rediscovered their goal-scoring touch against a clueless second-placed Pune City FC. Their top scorer Corominas rediscovered his touch with two penalties, while Boumous added another to his tally. Goa destroyed Pune 4-0 on Sunday, coming away with four crucial points from their week. They have played 16 matches and will play another two over the next five days. They face the distraught defending champions, ATK, before ending in probably the most crucial match of their season – against direct rivals Jamshedpur FC in an away game.
Qualification Scenario: If Goa defeats ATK, they will start their final game against Jamshedpur one point ahead of the newcomers. Ideally, they will want to defeat both ATK and Jamshedpur and finish on 30 points, which will guarantee them last-gasp qualification irrespective of other results. Even if Chennaiyin and Pune win their final game then, they will finish behind Goa – a miracle, given Goa’s form this year.
Prediction: Goa will beat ATK and draw with Jamshedpur, finishing at 28 points, and squeeze into fourth place ahead of Jamshedpur.
Despite their loss to Goa, Pune City FC have their fate in their own hands. Their last match will take place against Delhi Dynamos on Friday night. Though the Delhi team – which has fought back superbly in the last few weeks and now lie ahead of both ATK and NorthEast United FC in the table with two matches of their own to go. Even a draw for Pune will do – 30 points will ensure a top-3 position. Even a loss might be fine, given that Chennaiyin FC is also on 29 points, but Jamshedpur FC (26) are too far behind on goal difference. But if they do lose this match, they will be wary of FC Goa, who might finish on 30 points if they win both their own games.
Prediction: Pune might draw with the Dynamos and finish in the third spot behind FC Bengaluru and Chennaiyin FC.
Chennaiyin FC are also on 29 points and face Mumbai City FC in their final game. A draw will guarantee them a top-3 spot. A loss will be cutting it fine – if Jamshedpur FC win their final match against Goa by a margin of more than three goals, they will finish in fourth, still in a playoff spot. Like Pune, Chennaiyin have their destiny in their own hands. They will aim for a win against Mumbai.
Prediction: Chennaiyin will win against Mumbai and finish on 32 points, in the second spot ahead of Pune City and FC Goa.
Mumbai City FC have to win their last two games against Delhi Dynamos and Chennaiyin FC away to finish on 29 points, and then hope for Goa to finish on 28 points that include a draw against Jamshedpur FC. That’s the only way Mumbai can make a last-gasp plunge and crash the ISL Playoff party ahead of Goa and Jamshedpur. That will mean jumping from 7th to 4th – a heroic leap that seems unlikely as of now.
Kerala Blasters drew with Chennaiyin FC last week – a match they needed to win. Blasters have it the most difficult, with their final game against leaders Bengaluru. An upset win means they finish on 28 points – they can finish fourth on this tally only if Jamshedpur FC draws with FC Goa and Goa draws again with the Delhi Dynamos. They will also need Mumbai to get only 4 out of a possible 6 points against Delhi and Chennaiyin. Goa will then finish on 26, Mumbai on 27, Jamshedpur on 27 and Kerala on 28. This could be possible.
BOTTOM OF THE TABLE
NorthEast United FC is sure to finish last unless ATK loses to FC Goa (which they will) and then NorthEast somehow defeat ATK in the final game of the group stages. NorthEast has one game to go and have only 11 points from 17 games. ATK has 13 from 16 games. A final day showdown between the two bottom-placed teams playing for pride will be almost as exciting as the top-of-the-table clashes. If only there were higher stakes – like relegation to the second-tier league – to play for.
FINAL POINTS TABLE PREDICTION:
FC BENGALURU – 40 points
Chennaiyin FC – 32 points
Pune City FC – 30 points
FC Goa – 28 points
Jamshedpur FC – 27 points
Mumbai City FC – 26 points
Kerala Blasters – 25 points
Delhi Dynamos – 16 points
ATK – 14 points
NorthEast United FC – 12 points