And they’re back. After a 40-day long international break, during which the Indian football team made history by winning their first ever game at the AFC Asia Cup (but eventually crashed out), the Indian Super League 2018-19 edition returns to our screens. It’s been a while. In fact, it was actually last year that the last ISL game was played before the break. And what a game it was – 7 goals, a whopping win by the in-form Mumbai City FC team, and the relegation of Kerala City into the bottom 3. With such an action-packed football match rounding up the last phase, it’s hard not to look forward to the final stretch of league stage games.
Let’s do a refresher by taking a look at where things stand, and the potentially exciting contests in store over the next month:
Not much has changed since the ISL 2017-18 league table at this stage last year in terms of the leader. After MatchDay 12 last month, Sunil Chhetri’s Bengaluru FC, who are again outright favourites to win the ISL after falling in last year’s final, lead the table by 3 points over the resurgent Mumbai City team with a game in hand. MatchDay 11 saw the top two lock horns in a pulsating game that ended in a 1-1 draw – only Bengaluru’s third non-victory (and draw) in their 11 games. Chhetri and co. will want to come out all guns blazing again after enduring a disappointing league stage campaign at the Asia Cup despite the bright start (and the ultimate resigning of coach Stephen Constantine). Bengaluru and FC Goa are the only teams that have 7 games to go (as opposed to 6 for the others). They may not win them all, but they just don’t know how to lose.
STORY OF ISL-5
It was supposed to be the aggressive FC Goa at one point. Then the underdogs NorthEast United at another point, before they dropped points. But when nobody was looking, Mumbai City has steamed through opposition in their last 6 games (a hat-trick by Modou Sogou and his partnership with Arnold Issoko set the league alight), dropping just 2 points and scoring a flood of goals. They have won 7 of their 12 games, drawing 3 and losing 2 (both of which came in their first 6 games). Their spirited performance against the leaders in Bengaluru ensured that the team is here to fight it out in the final third of the group stage. With 13 goals in their last 4 games, few would bet against them.
BEST OF THE REST
FC Goa, a team that is again topping the goal-scoring charts (27 goals in 11 games), NorthEast United, Jamshedpur FC and two-time champs ATK are within 4 points of each other between 3rd and 6th place. Every win and loss can make a big difference from here on, with just 6 games to play for most of them. They are well clear of Pune City (16 points) and the bottom 3 (less than 10). Perhaps the most shocking continues to be defending champions Chennaiyin, who are on a measly 5 points (with just 1 win) after 12 games. No league in the world this season has seen a fall so steep from a champion side.
BEST UPCOMING GAMES
Sunday 27/1: Mumbai City v/s Bengaluru FC
The table toppers battle for top position – will Mumbai be able to maintain their momentum that might have maybe disappeared over the break?
Wednesday 30/1: Bengaluru FC v/s NorthEast United
Won’t be an easy first couple of games for the leaders. After Mumbai, they will face a team that finished in the bottom 2 last season but have shown remarkable resilience and attacking strength this season.
Friday 01/2: Mumbai City v/s FC Goa
This is the real Western derby of the season. Both teams, attacking, in prime form, and battling for a place in the playoffs. Goa has been there and done that, but Mumbai is hungry, and this might make for the most open-ended match of the season.
14/2: Goa v/s ATK
Things might be different in three weeks, but one suspects this game will be a defining one in terms of shaping the final stages of the group. ATK will do themselves a big favour if they manage to peak at the right time, while Goa will be fighting their own inconsistency.