In the tenth round of fixtures for each of the ten participating teams, ISL – India’s premier domestic football tournament – has sprung to life. We have a new leader – ex-champions Chennaiyin FC sit on top, followed by derby rivals and newcomers, Bengaluru FC, who they replaced – thanks to their late surges in each game.
We’re just over midway to the knockouts, and the ISL points table is finally starting to acquire more definitive form in the new year. 2018 has in fact been an exciting time for the league. In little more than two weeks, there have been some noticeable trends, the upset of the tournament, a hat-trick, a few refereeing mistakes and massive changes of momentum.
Here are three talking points that may well affect the new few rounds of ISL fixtures:
Two-time finalists Kerala Blasters, who had won just one of their first eight games, have turned their campaign around with a mini-revival in the last one week alone. They are again scheduled to play once (Wednesday) before the weekends. The “draw” specialists have woken up, first defeating wooden spooners Delhi Dynamos in a high-scoring attacking encounter in Delhi, before winning yet another away game – this time, beating direct table rivals Mumbai City FC, a team that is in fifth position above the Blasters only on goal difference. Much of this is down to the long overdue return of their striking top-scorer – and ISL’s all-time top-scorer – Canadian Iain Hume to form. Hume had scored zero goals in the first eight games – his misadventures being responsible for the Blasters’ exceptionally slow start to the league. But Hume’s hat-trick against Delhi, followed by a controversial winner against Mumbai, now means that the Blasters will be the momentum team going forward, and will look for three wins in a row when they take on one of the best defending teams in the league, Jamshedpur FC. The Blasters remain unbeaten in 2018. Returning manager David James will be a happy man.
TOP OF THE TABLE TRAFFIC
It was only a matter of time before Chennaiyin FC was going to lead the standings. Bengaluru FC, as accomplished as they are due to their domestic I-League history, are also inconsistent and seemingly lack the temperament to “settle” – evident from their four losses and zero draws, the only team with no draw in the league. This go-for-broke mentality could hurt them in the long run, though one can argue their attitude makes for a fascinating viewing experience. This was on display during their shocking loss to bottom-placed Delhi Dynamos on Sunday, where they failed to score a single goal. Coach Albert Roca instead took out his frustration on the refereeing again. That they have to participate in the AFC Cup too seems to have affected Roca’s rotation tactics in the league. Chennaiyin has only lost two games, and like the Blasters, know how to dig in and even fight back when they fall behind. Chennaiyin’s real rivals, who are a threat to their position, will be the most attacking side of the league, FC Goa. Goa has two of the three top goal scorers right now – both the Spaniards, Coro (9) and Lanzarote (7). They have contributed 16 goals out of the team’s total of 22 in 10 games. However, Sergio Lobera’s free-flowing team will be disappointed with their form since the turn of the year. They have won 1, lost 1 and drawn 1 – not scoring more than two goals in any of them. Currently, they are in fourth, and in the position to go second a point behind Chennaiyin if they win their game in hand.
The bottom-placed Delhi team has conceded 24 goals this season in ten games – the most by a long margin. It has scored only 10, with none of its strikers in the top ten. It also has only two clean sheets in the league – its first game, when it made a great start against Pune City FC, and its latest game, in which it upset Bengaluru FC with a solid performance. And that latest game is what has sparked hope for a miraculous revival, despite 7 losses in 10 games. In both its wins, Lallianzuala Chhangte has scored goals and ended up as the player of the match. The Dynamos, however, will hope that, with this win over Bengaluru, it builds upon the form and at the very least overtakes the lowest-scoring team of the league, NorthEast United FC in the next few games. It has two games left this month to play – one against the solid Jamshedpur and one against a resurgent Kerala Blasters. Much will be decided by their performances in these two matches.
Early Prediction for semifinalists:
FC Goa, Chennaiyin FC, Bengaluru FC, Kerala Blasters/ATK