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ISL 2018: The Talking Points of MatchDay 16

There have been no major changes in the leaderboard after yet another enthralling week of Hero Indian Super League action. Yet, one can be sure there will be some rattling of the ISL table by next week, given the results so far. The foundation has been set, and we might just see a final lunge for the finishing rope give rise to an entirely new-look mid-table by the first week of March.

Asia’s premier domestic football tournament has reached the last few weeks of group-stage action, with the all-important playoffs just around the corner. Newcomers FC Bengaluru are still the only team to have officially qualified for the playoffs. The race is on to catch up with them, with no less than 6 teams still fighting for the other three spots. The battle – even for the bottom half of the table – could go down to the final MatchDay 18.

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of MatchDay 16:

THE COMEBACK OF CHENNAIYIN

Chennaiyin FC have struggled to score goals this month – in fact, they haven’t scored more than 1 goal in a match throughout – and we had predicted that this week would be their make-or-break week in a season that was threatening to be derailed by their sudden frailties. Their matches against a wounded FC Goa and stellar Jamshedpur FC would decide their playoff destiny. As it happened, Mohammed Rafi was the only player – a super sub, too – to score a Chennaiyin goal across the two games. And yet, the team came away with 4 crucial points from the tough matches. On Thursday, they rode Goa defender Nayaran Das’s unfortunate own goal to snuff out a derailed Goa 0-1, getting a crucial 3 points that helped them stay in the top 4. Three days later, they displayed superb fitness to fight till the last minute after conceding an early goal to Jamshedpur at the Nehru stadium, before Rafi headed in during the final minute to snatch a point at the end. Their attacking ability is still under the scanner, but John Gregory’s team has come back from behind in the dying seconds more than any other team this season. And for that alone, Chennaiyin finds themselves in third position, 2 points ahead of Jamshedpur – who were third last week – and just a point behind Pune City FC. They’re back on track just in time.

Match to look forward to: Kerala Blasters vs Chennaiyin FC (Book tickets here!)

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GOODBYE GOA

It was nice while FC Goa was on a rampage in 2017, scoring goals for fun and conceding goals for fun. Sergio Lobera’s Spanish marauders looked to be the most exciting team till 2018. But then, always a few matches behind because of a strange ISL schedule, Goa have spectacularly lost their way. At one point last month they could have challenged for the top spot. But with 4 games to play, Goa is now languishing at 6th in the standings. That would have been fine if they were showing signs of a last-quarter charge – but the team looks all at sea, losing 3 games and drawing 1 in the last 25 days. Teams like the Blasters, Pune, and Jamshedpur have zoomed ahead – even Mumbai City FC is on par with them – while Goa fell further with their loss against Chennaiyin – in which they failed to found the back of the wrong net with the own-goal. Two of their next three games are against weaker teams – Delhi Dynamos and ATK – and if they don’t manage maximum points out of these two, Goa will have no hopes to make the playoffs, despite the games in hand. As a result, the schedule now has Goa play thrice in the next 8 days – to make up for their constant lag. By the end of February, Goa’s destiny will be sealed.

Match to look forward to: Pune City FC vs FC Goa (Book tickets here!)

BOTTOM EXCITEMENT

Things are getting heated up in the bottom 3 – Mumbai City FC in seventh place is 7 points clear of ATK in the eighth spot, so it’s safe to say that this battle is a private one for pride. Two-time champions ATK have suffered an almighty collapse in ISL 2018. Their season plunged further into embarrassment as they lost at home to an erratic Mumbai side on Sunday. This means that they are just 2 points ahead of ninth-placed NorthEast United FC and tenth-placed Delhi Dynamos. In fact, Delhi have looked the strongest in the last few weeks. They won a crucial match against direct rivals NorthEast on Wednesday, after drawing against Chennaiyin. These 4 points mean that they are now at 11 points, on par with Avram Grant’s struggling side. And the kicker: they have 2 games in hand. NorthEast, since drawing against Goa earlier in the month, have lost their last three games in a row by a 1-0 margin – against Pune, Jamshedpur and now Delhi. These 3 defeats mean that they are currently in prime position to finish last, despite showing signs of a comeback at the beginning of 2018 once Grant took charge. The next round will decide their fate.

Matches to look forward to: Mumbai City FC vs NorthEast United FC (Book tickets here!)