Just last week, it seemed fairly easy to predict the trends and form of certain teams in the 2017-18 Indian Super League. After all, ten rounds should be enough to know about the favorites and the condemned. Yet, that’s the beauty of Asia’s premier football tournament. This fourth edition has been filled with surprises – and its lack of predictability, unlike the European leagues, where one or two teams become clear frontrunners by now, is what keeps us at the edge of our seats.
Every team except FC Goa, North East United and two-time champions ATK played their eleventh (out of 18) game by Sunday. The three teams have a game in hand, which is what makes the group stages so interesting right now.
Failure to Launch
Many knew that last weekend would make or break the inconsistent Kerala Blasters’ 2018 campaign. The team was scheduled to play more matches than any other team this month – including three in this last one week. Therefore they remain the only team to have played 12 games so far. Since David James’ takeover as the coach, the Blasters enjoyed a mini-revival after a sputtering start to the ISL. Their away win against a struggling Mumbai FC last weekend had given them momentum to play their next two against Jamshedpur FC on a Wednesday and then a high-flying FC Goa at home on Sunday. They needed top striker Iain Hume to fire again, after his 4 goals in those two games. But the Blasters brief high was punctured in week 11. And this is arguably the end of the road for the two-time finalists. Jamshedpur dismantled them 2-1, ending the Blasters’ 3-game unbeaten run in style. Substitute Mark Sifneos, who replaced a largely ineffective Hume, scored an injury-time goal. By then, it was too late. But Jamshedpur’s defense, arguably the strongest in the group stages (they’ve conceded only 9), held well to frustrate James’ team. The second match was always going to be difficult, against the most aggressive team in the ISL. The Spaniards in Goa once again had a field day. After Corominas scored his 10th of the season, Edu Bedia scored a late winner to condemn the Blasters to the bottom half of the table.
Upset of the Month
North East United, who had scored only 4 goals as a team in their first 9 games, exploded into life against ‘Super Machchans’ and table leaders Chennaiyin FC in Guwahati this week. Seiminlen Doungel became the first Indian player this season to score a hat-trick, as United downed the South Indian team 3-1 in arguably the upset of the month, only a week after Delhi Dynamos had upset Bengaluru FC. This was the Highlander’s biggest win of the season in which they have remained just above the sputtering Dynamos at the bottom. Manager Avram Grant seems to be having a favorable effect on his team, with them having lost just one game this month – to ATK a week ago. Shockingly, North East is now just two points adrift of two-time champions ATK, a team that is at least provisionally in 8th place after 10 games.
Jamshedpur FC enjoyed their biggest week of the campaign with two solid wins – their only two wins at home this season. A 2-1 win against the Kerala Blasters was followed by a 5-goal thriller against a resurgent Delhi Dynamos in possibly the match of the year. Kalu Uche scored two in quick succession to put the Dynamos ahead 0-2 in the first 25 minutes. But Jamshedpur, a team famed for its defense, showed its fighting spirit by pulling off a slow-burning comeback. This culminated in a winner by substitute Trinandade Golcalves in the 86th minute, after goals on either side of half-time. The two wins lifted them from eighth to fifth in the table – effectively in competition with Mumbai City FC, who are two points behind after 11 games. This closed the gap between the top 4 and Jamshedpur to 3 points. FC Goa, who have a game in hand, and Pune City FC, who are effectively Jamshedpur’s rivals for fourth place now, have a fight on their hands. Meanwhile, FC Bengaluru reclaimed its place back on the top despite an inconsistent month. Chennaiyin FC’s loss and their impressive win in Mumbai meant that they now lead the ex-champions by 1 point after 11 games. Mumbai have had a terrible runoff later, with two successive home losses relegating them to sixth place, a week after they were in the top 4. Pune dismantled a clueless ATK side at home to remain in the top 4. ATK is now virtually out of the running, with just 10 points from 10 games.
This means only one thing: unless Chennaiyin continue their form to the final day, will we finally have a new HERO ISL Champion.
Match to look forward to in WEEK 12:
FC Pune City vs Jamshedpur FC
Date: January 24
For more matches in the ISL, visit BookMyShow.