The fifth edition of the Indian Super League is already into its first international break after a little more than one week of competition. After two rounds of football matches, there will be none till October 17th. But ISL 2018-19 is alive and kicking, which is why it’s a good time to take stock of whatever little we’ve seen so far. There have been a few chartbusting results already, and it’s impossible not to hope for a complete overhaul of results over the next five months.
With everyone except Delhi Dynamos and Pune City having played two games, here are some of the talking points that might define the rest of this ISL season:
THE GOAN SUN
Sergio Lobera’s FC Goa – ISL’s most exciting hit-or-miss team – has begun this season in inimitable style. The most damning result of the two rounds so far occurred on Saturday night, when Goa’s midfield completely outclassed defending Champions Chennaiyin’s: a 3-1 result against the embattled champions away from home catapulted Goa to the early lead in the ISL table. Edu Badia bossed the game, while perpetual scorer and Golden Boot favourite Ferran Corominas scored his third goal in two games after scoring a brace against NorthEast United in their opener. Scoring 5 goals and conceding 3 in two matches – that’s as Goa as it gets. And we would have it no other way.
THE ATK SYNDROME
Defending champs Chennaiyin seem to be going through the kind of slump ATK went through all of last season. The Champions’ curse seems to have struck them as they went down to rivals FC Bengaluru and Goa in two tough opening games in the week. One could say John Gregory’s team can only get better from now on against weaker opposition – but is there any weak opposition this year? Indian stars Anirudh Thapa, Germanpreet Singh and striker Jeje Lalpekhlua performed poorly, and look a far cry from last season’s inspirational underdogs that they were. It’s too early to tell – but with zero points so far, Chennaiyin will hope to transform themselves in their next few games. How things have changed in four months!
NorthEast United, the favourite whipping boys of ISL for the last five seasons, have finally found their voice under new coach Eelco Schattorie. After winning the least number of ISL matches across seasons, the team drew with FC Goa 2-2 in their opener before condemning a 10-man ATK to a 1-0 defeat at the Salt Lake Stadium with a spirited performance. Schattorie, who was worried about spending the least money to rebuild their team, will be happy with four crucial points from two games – especially their dominant performance against ATK and Rowllin Borges headed home in the dying minutes. What’s more, they even led for a night after this win, and before FC Goa and the others played their second game! Compare this to last season, where the team won a total of two matches.
THE JAMSHEDPUR JUGGERNAUT
All the hype has been about Aussie legend Tim Cahill’s ISL debut for one of ISL’s two newest teams. But after defeating Mumbai City with a determined two-goal performance last week, Jamshedpur made headlines because of their teenaged star – 16-year-old Gourav Mukhi, who scored a goal in the 81st minute to equalize with favourites and hosts’ Bengaluru’s. Chhetri’s strike in the 88th wasn’t the winner either, with Jamshedpur riding their luck with a corner in the dying seconds and scoring, drawing a game for the second season in a row against the toughest opponent in the Indian Super League. With four goals in two matches, manager Cesar Ferrando will be happy that his team is not just known for its defensive abilities anymore.
NO CHANGE FOR ATK
Once again, the two-time Champions find themselves at the bottom of the table, continuing a spiral that started at the end of 2016. Coach Steve Coppell must be livid – despite the team overhaul, ATK has scored zero goals and conceded three, all in the last 13 minutes of both games (against Kerala Blasters and minnows NorthEast United). Both losses have come at the famous Salt Lake City stadium at home, and this will pain the most passionate football fans in the country, who must be wondering what has gone missing from their beloved champions after they dominated the first three seasons of ISL. Sena Ralte’s red card didn’t help matters against United, but the midfield has failed to create chances for new import Manuel Lanzarote at the front. They fought hard defensively for 89 minutes against United, but in the end Coppell is back to where ATK began – in search of hope.
Games to look forward to in October 2018:
Chennaiyin FC v/s NorthEast United (October 18) – crucial game for the champions, a third loss in a row will spell doom for them
Goa v/s Mumbai City (October 24) – Mumbai has always been a mid-table team, but they have the ability to explode against their explosive Western rivals
ATK v/s Chennaiyin FC (October 26) – it’s likely that both ISL teams, who have shared four titles between them, will already be fighting for survival by this match
Jamshedpur v/s Kerala Blasters (October 29) – the two dark horses of the season will lock horns in a crucial encounter. Prediction: one of them might go top of the table with a win here.