Week one of the ISL has flown by, and there has already been plenty to talk about. Spectacular goals, even more spectacular own goals, rain-soaked pitches, tactical battles, yo-yo-ing philosophies… It’s been a good start.
Who can stop Antonio Habas’ ATK Mohun Bagan?
The question at the start of most ISL seasons used to be who can score against Antonio Habas’ ATK. Or ATK Mohun Bagan. This season, it’s not so much the scoring against but the defending against that will be the biggest challenge.
Signing Hugo Boumous was a masterstroke, and on the back of early evidence Boumous and Roy Krishna are loving playing with each other. So much so, that saying that the Boumous-Krishna connection will define this season’s league seems like stating the obvious. The duo, and a brilliant Liston Colaco, were superb in the season-opener as they swatted aside Kerala Blasters. The scary thing, though? They did all that while never really slipping out of second gear.
Speaking of… Oh, Kerala Blasters
Hi Blasters, can we stop doing this now, please? If it was a way-too-open midfield (and consequently defence) that was the problem in their first game, it was attackers missing open goals that was the issue in the second. Admittedly the Blasters won’t be the only side who struggle against Bagan (see above), but very few are likely to make it as easy to play through. Boumous had the freedom of the Fatorda last Friday. Then on Thursday, the sharp finishing they had shown against Bagan disappeared, with one particular miss a certainty for the season’s blooper reel.
There are clear signs of promise — Sahal’s first goal in years, Vincy Baretto’s debut, and Antonio Luna’s ability — even if Rahul KP’s unfortunate injury will not help matters. Now, though, Ivan Vukomanovic needs to find a way to knit them all together into a coherent unit right pronto, otherwise another spectacular self-destruction looks increasingly likely.
Mumbai City aren’t going anywhere
If anyone was worried if Mumbai City would regress and let Bagan turn this into a one-horse race, their fears were allayed on Monday. Des Buckingham’s Mumbai dominated an admittedly poor Goa, pressing them high, forcing quick turnovers and attacking relentlessly. Ahmed Jahouh and Mourtada Fall were their usual brilliant selves while Mohammed Nawaz’s sweeping-up ability helped them maintain pressure higher up the pitch.
The headline makers, though, were up top. Igor Angulo had been left out of FC Goa’s Champions League squad, and having decided to move across to Mumbai had a point to prove. And boy did he prove it. Angulo, 37, continues to rival Krishna as the best forward in the league. Just behind him, Brazilians Cassinho and Ygot Catatau look pretty fun.
Concerns remain for Bengaluru and Chennaiyin
Bengaluru were good in their first match, and bad in the second and that’s just not how they do things, is it? After beating NorthEast in a rain-drenched, end-to-end, error-strewn belter of a match, Marco Pezzaiuoli’s men surrendered rather tamely to an inspired Odisha. Pezzaiuoli, a disciple of the Ralf Rangnick school of football, will not be concerned with the end-to-end nature of their first two games, but will be with their inconsistency.
Chennaiyin’s new boss, Bozidar Bandovic, meanwhile has no intention of getting his side into high-scoring end-to-end affairs. “I don’t like this kind of game. First of all, I want discipline and I want my team to be compact,” he would say after he saw a disciplined, compact Chennaiyin eke out a 1-0 win against Hyderabad (penalty, correctly given). If he continues down this road, though, he needs to shore up that defence a little more. Not everyone will be as generously profligate as Bart Ogbeche was on Tuesday.
Hyderabad FC should be alright
They may have lost their opening game 1-0, but it’s just a matter of time before Ogbeche finds those shooting boots he’s misplaced. An early blip won’t concern Manolo Marquez just yet.
Jamshedpur have a bit of worry, though
Nerijus Valskis has now gone 11 straight league games without scoring a goal for Jamshedpur. Considering so much of Owen Coyle’s game plan is built around getting the ball to his usually consistent striker’s feet, this could prove quite the pain if not resolved right now.
FC Goa and NorthEast United disappoint
Two of the more hyped teams this season have starred in three rather disappointing performances. Goa (as injury-struck as they were) looked a pale shadow of themselves as they were toyed with by Mumbai City – Buckingham winning the tactical battle over Juan Ferrando, his players winning every other kind of battle over Ferrando’s. The Goa coach will hope this was a one-off, especially Airam Cabrera’s performance. The Spanish striker has massive boots to fill in Angulo’s and Coro’s and he needs to step his game up a notch or four.
Khalid Jamil’s history making NorthEast United were disappointingly open in their first game and disappointingly unadventurous in the second. It’s a tough line to walk, but Jamil needs to find it soon or risk upsetting the trigger-happy board that showed the conviction to appoint him.
Odisha look a better side. So do East Bengal, kinda.
What a player Javi Hernandez is. Alongside more luminous attacking talents at ATK (and ATKMB), Javi would often slip under the radar, his best work coming two or three passes before the headline grabbing action, but that’s not the case in Odisha. Under Kiko Ramirez, he’s front-and-centre and it was all too much for Bengaluru to handle. On either side of him, Jerry Mawihmingthangpa and Nandhakumar Sekar look as lively as always while in front of him Jonathas and Aridai Cabrera look very sharp and very exciting. Add to that the stability that Victor Mongil appears to have brought to the defence, and Odisha look like they can upset some apple carts this season.
East Bengal, meanwhile, look better than last season too – which is not saying much. Manolo Diaz appears to have gotten them into a better structure while relying on the quick mind and quicker feet of Antonio Perosevic up front. Perosevic has the potential to bring a lot of people to their feet, but Diaz’s main task will be to ensure that the Croatian won’t be the only one doing anything purposeful in attack, a la Bright Enobakhare last season.