With only a few days left for the first football match of the sixth edition of the Hero ISL – between Kerala Blasters and ATK – it’s time to have a bit of fun. We know the facts: ATK are two-time champions, Chennaiyin are two-time champions and Bengaluru FC is the defending champion and currently the best team in the Indian Super League. But the facts rarely add up to give rise to the fiction – exciting, thrilling, broad – that defines an ISL season. So let’s look at four outrageous and not-so-outrageous predictions for the ISL 2019-20 season. They can’t possibly be more absurd than Chennaiyin going from champions to last in less than a year, but who knows. Here goes:
THERE WILL BE A NEW CHAMPION
There are now 10 teams playing in the ISL , and yet only 3 of them have won 5 ISL titles between them. Expect a new champion this season. The thing about the format – a two-leg semifinal followed by the final – is that it barely allows for major upsets. Last year, the two best teams, FC Goa and FC Bengaluru, reached the final after defeating underdogs Northeast United and Mumbai City over two legs. Year before last, again the top two group-stage teams reached the finals. This season, expect Bengaluru to face stiff competition from Goa (the best of the rest), Northeast United and Kerala Blasters. I expect one of these three teams, likely Goa, to reach the final and win their first-ever ISL title.
THE NEWCOMERS COULD MAKE THE PLAYOFFS
When Bengaluru and Jamshedpur entered the ISL two years ago, not many expected them to put up such a strong show in the first season itself. Both were the two best defensive teams in the league, and Bengaluru reached the final as favourites. This year, Hyderabad FC (replacing Pune City) and Odisha (Delhi rebranded) are relatively unknown entities, but that could work in their favour. Delhi weren’t doing too well for a while, and a change of management could well suit them, while Hyderabad – led by experienced coach Phil Brown and Brazilian forward Marcelinho, who did well for Pune – could cause some upsets, but need the legs to last almost 5 months. I’d put my money on at least one of them to reach the playoffs in fourth place of ISL 2019-20.
CORO WILL NOT WIN THE GOLDEN BOOT
Well, this prediction I’m just putting out there for the heck of it. FC Goa’s prolific Spanish ex La Liga striker Coro has been the top scorer by far over the last two seasons – and Goa the most attacking team – but hopefully someone not named Coro will top the goal-scoring charts this season. Before him it was Canadian Iain Hume who dominated the charts, but this season I expect Asamoah Gyan, Northeast’s new star signing, to lead the charts.
CHENNAIYIN WILL WIN MORE THAN TWO GAMES
Chennaiyin, two-time champs, have an unwanted ISL record to their name. In ISL 2018-19, as defending champions, the team not only finished last but own the record of winning the least number of matches (2) and being the only ISL team over six seasons to score less than 10 points in a season. This, despite an 18-game season, compared to the prior 14-game seasons. Englishman John Gregory is still in charge of the team, and will be happy to know that no free-dive can be as bad as last season – talk about a victory hangover. Chennaiyin lost a record 13 football matches out of 18, conceding 32 goals and scoring only 16, less than a year after upsetting Bengaluru FC in a cracker of an ISL final.
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