Four out of the ten teams in the Indian Super League have now played 15 games out of 18, and FC Goa is the only team to have played 13. At first, this seemed like an advantage because they would always be in with a chance to turn the table upside down. But now it’s clear that FC Goa is always playing catch up – and the ISL schedule could come back to haunt them.
Last week, from Tuesday to Sunday, all the ten teams participated in one of the most defining weeks of ISL 2018 so far. FC Bengaluru, Chennaiyin FC, NorthEast United FC, and Pune City FC played twice. As a result, it’s now clear which teams are playing for pride for the next four rounds, and which ones have everything on the line.
Here are the winners and losers of MatchDay 14:
BLAST OFF BENGALURU
The ‘newcomers’ in the ISL have taken the league by storm. They became the first team to qualify for the semifinals – with three games in hand! As we speak, a pumped-up Bengaluru team is in the Maldives – not on vacation, but to play the first leg of the AFC Cup Playoffs against TC Sports Club. They have traveled there despite the political turmoil on the island, and are determined to continue the winning form that they have become synonymous within this year’s ISL. On Tuesday, as Sunil Chhetri scored in injury time to make it 1-3 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, it became clear that derby rivals Chennaiyin FC were not to be their main challengers to finish first in the table. A month ago, they were two points ahead of Bengaluru. But the visitors were four points ahead of Chennaiyin at the beginning of the week. Now they are a full 9 points ahead of a struggling Chennaiyin – that’s the difference five days can make in a league that had both of them fighting for top spot for months. Bengaluru then won their fifth consecutive match – equaling the league record – with a solid 2-0 win over a curiously collapsed FC Goa side. Garcia’s header off a corner and Delgado’s easy slot-in in the last ten minutes exposed Goa’s frailties again – and put Bengaluru in a position to win their sixth on the trot, which will be an all-time ISL record. They have beaten the best of teams this week. But it won’t be easy, given that their opponent is the in-form Pune City FC.
A PUNE STATE OF MIND
The other big winner of the week, Pune City FC, bounced back from their upset loss to Kerala Blasters and won two in a row – against NorthEast United FC and derby rivals Mumbai City FC – without conceding a goal. Coach Ranko Popovic is a happy man, and declared his forward Marcelinho the ‘special one’ as he scored in both games. Pune now has 6 clean sheets in 15 games, just one behind defensive favorites and newcomers Jamshedpur FC. They are 5 points behind leaders Bengaluru, now in the second position for the first time, 3 ahead of Jamshedpur – who remain the only team capable of continuing their momentum and challenging Popovic’s young guns. The next match against leaders Bengaluru FC could well decide if they finish second or fourth in the table. A loss will hurt their confidence, but a win will take them within two points of Bengaluru into the playoffs – with a chance of even overtaking what will presumably be a tired Bengaluru team after their AFC Cup tie.
Chennaiyin had a bad week, managing just one point (from their draw with a down-and-out Delhi Dynamos) from two matches, and slipping to provisional fourth position behind Jamshedpur for the first time this season. Ideally they should have offered Bengaluru a fight before winning their game against the Dynamos. Equally disappointed will be the Kerala Blasters, who drew 2-2 with a struggling ATK despite taking the lead twice. A Dimitar Berbatov special wasn’t enough, and the Blasters remained stuck in fifth in the ‘best of the rest’ race. FC Goa is right behind them with two games in hand – but Goa has struggled in 2018, losing and drawing more than it has won. At one point it looked the favorite to challenge for the lead, given their attacking Spanish duo upfront in sizzling form, but their defense and gung-ho attitude on the field seems to have cost them. Goa still remain in with a chance to make the playoffs, because they have played just 13 games and have 5 in hand. But their loss against Bengaluru last week proved that they are a team struggling to arrest a slide, while others like Jamshedpur and Pune have raced ahead. Mumbai’s loss to Pune relegated them to the bottom half of the table for good. ATK’s draw meant that they remained just ahead of NorthEast, who seem to have lost the momentum that new manager Avram Grant had injected them with. NorthEast and Dynamos will fight for the last two positions, while ATK and Mumbai seem destined to play for lost pride. Only the top 6 teams remain relevant for the next month. The fight for fourth could yet go down to the wire, if Goa roar back to form and if Chennaiyin continue to suffer at the front.
Matches to watch out for in MatchDay 15
1) Bengaluru FC vs Pune City FC
Date: Feb 16, 2018
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2) Chennaiyin FC vs Jamshedpur FC
Date: Feb 18, 2018
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Needless to mention, this is the most important week of Chennaiyin’s sputtering campaign. Two tough matches – against Goa and Jamshedpur – will prove their credentials once and for all. In a week, we will be infinitely clearer about the finality of the playoff spots.
- Bengaluru FC are yet to draw a single game out of the 15 they played. They have won 11 and lost 4.
- Bengaluru FC overtook FC Goa as the highest goal scorers of the league this week. They have scored 30, while Goa – which was once 6 goals ahead of the rest – are on 29. Pune have 27.
- Four teams out of the top five have lost four matches each.
- Only Bengaluru FC and Pune FC have a positive goal difference in double figures (15 and 13), while both Jamshedpur and Chennaiyin have just 3. Jamshedpur has scored the lowest out of the top 7 – 15 goals – but have also conceded the lowest – 12 – after 15 games.
- Two of the top four goal scorers of the league are from FC Goa. Corominas and Miku have scored 21 of their 29 goals between them.