ISL musings: End of Habas 2.0, Mumbai flaunt title credentials and Stewart’s wonder goal


Well, that was a weird week of ISL football, wasn’t it? Teams that played twice went full Jekyll and Hyde on us, while others continued to stumble around in the dark as they look to find their bearings this season. We try to make sense of it all:

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Habas 2.0 was fun while it lasted

Ah, Antonio. It was so good when it clicked. On Saturday, ATK Mohun Bagan played a fluid, totaalvoetbal-y formation that ripped apart East Bengal. Given license to roam forward, Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Joni Kauko, Hugo Boumous and Roy Krishna were utterly irrepressible.

On Wednesday, they played the same formation, the same personnel, against Mumbai City and got decimated. If it was slightly disconcerting watching a Habas side score seven goals in two matches, it was even worse watching one conceding four in just one half (five overall in that match). It was the most Habas, the league’s most successful manager by far, had ever conceded in a match in India.

By the look on his face throughout the Mumbai match, and the substitutions he made for the second half (David Williams for Boumous, Prabir Das for Colaco), you can see what’s about to happen. The OG Habas, all defence and no fun, is set to return.

Mumbai City stumble, and then display title credentials

As poor as Bagan were, Mumbai City were brilliant. Des Buckingham saw all that awesome firepower lined up in front of him, and instead of cowering, decided to take the fight to them. In a counter-pressing masterclass, he exploited the spaces behind the Bagan wingers. Everything that had been a strength for Bagan in the first two matches suddenly turned into a weakness.

To do this after a beating at the hands of Hyderabad (a convincing 1-3 loss), showed a resilience that is promising, and to do it while trusting his young (and not-so-young) Indian contingent showed faith (in his players, and himself). Vikram Pratap Singh, 19, started, and scored twice. Bipin Singh, 26, scored too. They ripped apart Bagan’s flanks. Apuia, 21, ran midfield. It was a proper statement of intent — ‘Lobera may be gone, we’re here to stay.’

BFC vs. KBFC descends into the farcical

It’s never nice to see games decided on errors, but Bengaluru FC vs. Kerala Blasters FC was the kind of match that could only be decided on just that. And what errors they were. BFC’s goal came when Ashique Kuriniyan smashed a ball that looked like it was going just wide before Albino Gomes, in the Blasters’ goal, smothered it in. A few minutes later, Ashique blasted a clearance into the roof of his own net. The two errors pushed a dull match into the realm of farcical slapstick and therein lies the rub. While we can sympathise with Albino and Ashique, everything else that happened on the pitch showed that neither side are anywhere near good enough to compete for the top honours. Not just yet. Marco Pezzaiouli and Ivan Vukomanovic have their work cut out. And then some.

How much trouble are FC Goa in?

As far as starts go, FC Goa could not have asked for worse. Two matches in, they are the only side yet to register a point and they have to count themselves lucky their goal difference at this point is only -5. Much like Mumbai last week, Jamshedpur never really needed to slip out of third gear while still being able to score three goals past poor Dheeraj Singh in the Goa goal. With a couple of relatively easier games coming up, Juan Ferrando needs to rediscover his tactical mojo fast. If results go sideways, then you know they are in proper trouble.

NorthEast United really are in trouble

Khalid Jamil’s team look a pale shadow of the one that romped to the playoffs last season. Their attack looks shorn of confidence, and midfield tentative. But what will concern Jamil most is that his defence is all over the place. Injuries haven’t helped, but the first Indian coach of the ISL has a major task on his hands here. The match against Goa on Saturday looks critical for both sides to stem the rot.

P.S. You have to feel for Federico Gallego. He came back after another long injury layoff, looked the best player on the pitch, and then had to hobble off after a rather innocuous-looking knock.

Chennaiyin lean on their Indian core

Two games, two wins. Chennaiyin haven’t set the world on fire but they are doing what is being asked of him. Lallianzuala Chhangte is doing Lallianzuala Chhangte things – breezing past defences, missing easy chances, scoring blinders, stretching play. Anirudh Thapa, meanwhile, seems to be revelling in his captaincy and has held that midfield together. The goal he scored to win the game against NEUFC was his best qualities in a microcosm — game intelligence to time his run just right, technique to get the ball into space with his first touch, and calmness in front of goal. Bozidar Bandovic will be a happy man after that start to the season.

Can Odisha play East Bengal every week? Please?

3 games. 25 goals. Non-existent defending, Non-stop entertainment. Theirs might not be a fixture for the purists, but Odisha FC vs. East Bengal is the most chaotically fun fixture in the Indian football calendar. Tuesday’s effort, won 6-4 by Odisha, saw six goals scored AFTER the 80th minute. Ah, magic.

Both coaches were left fuming at the defensive effort, and it needs a marked improvement if they are to even compete with the big boys. But one will be more concerned moving forward — Odisha at least have the kind of attack that can make up for it. In that department, they have recruited wisely in the summer and they already seem to be on the same wavelength. SC East Bengal, meanwhile, look as rudderless as they did last season. It could be another long one for those that wear the red and gold on their sleeves.

Ogbeche and Stewart wonder-goals paper over cracks

Oh boy were they wonder-goals or what. Greg Stewart danced through half the Hyderabad defence en-route lashing one into the top corner. Bart Ogbeche sidestepped a couple of eager challenges before finding a postage stamp finish from just outside the box. Quite incredible, both.

What happened before that should cause a flutter of concern for both coaches, though. Hyderabad were — by coach Manolo Marquez’s own admission — quite terrible and absolutely not at the races on Thursday night. To see his side beat reigning champs Mumbai 3-1 and then put up this sort of display would have been rather annoying. He needs to weed out any complacency or drop in levels this week itself.

Which leads us to Owen Coyle’s cause for worry… they really should have buried this game in the first half. They had Hyderabad on the ropes, not allowing them to play out of the back, and should have scored a couple more than they did. Just that killer instinct in the final third was missing. Stewart looks a sensational addition, and his link up with Nerijus Valskis will only improve — Jamshedpur’s success this season will depend on just how fast this happens.

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