Goals, drama, upsets… ah, the ISL. After another topsy-turvy four days in this season of India’s top division, the ISL Musings is here early to try and make sense of it all. (And will continue to arrive every Tuesday from now, instead of the unnatural-for-a-review-feeling Friday).
Antonio Habas faces his biggest challenge
What a season it has already been for Antonio Habas. His team were brilliant in their first two matches (and had us waxing lyrical), and have been shambolic in the last two. More than the results itself, it will be the performances that will worry Habas. If they were out-played and out-thought by Mumbai City, they were out-fought by Jamshedpur FC. Habas will hate all three aspects, but it’s the out-fought bit that he absolutely will not be able to stand.
As soon as Jamshedpur’s first goal went in, you could hear him screaming at his players to keep their heads up, to keep fighting (echoed on the field only by Amrinder Singh in the Bagan goal). This is not something that his teams have needed reminding of in the past, and addressing this will probably be his biggest challenge in what has been a very successful career in India.
Jamshedpur are dark horses for the playoffs
You can never underestimate an Owen Coyle side, and Jamshedpur FC are no different. Defensively sound, they have skilled forwards, a tenacious midfield, and exciting wingers. They play more on the counter-attack than Coyle’s Jamshedpur of last season or Chennaiyin of the one before, but it suits them. He is maximising his team’s strengths, and hiding their weaknesses as best he can. Coyle knows there’s a long way to go still (as he said post the Bagan match), but he will be quietly confident of what this team can achieve.
Kerala Blasters show what they are capable of
Fast, direct, high-pressing, no-nonsense. Kerala Blasters’ performance as they brought Odisha FC back down to earth was the kind their fans had been craving. Ivan Vukomanovic trusted the same set of players that clung to the 1-1 draw vs Bengaluru and was rewarded with a fine display. Adrian Luna’s skill on the ball was unmatched, while off it, he was everywhere (literally – his heatmap was the definition of box-to-box). His vision deserved the high-quality finishing that Prasanth Karuthadathkuni and Alvaro Vazquez served up. They may not have had that long-awaited clean sheet, but moving forward? More of this, please.
Chennaiyin’s unwanted tribute to last season
Talking about high quality finishing… What was that, Chennaiyin? In a throwback to last season (when they scored a mere 17 goals in 20 matches), they utterly dominated the game against a poor SC East Bengal, created clear-cut chances aplenty, and scored no goals. The xG figures were off the charts, but Bozidar Bandovic will hope that this was a momentary lapse, because in a league as short as this, there’s very little time to correct a downward xG-to-actual-goals conversion trend – as Csaba Laszlo found out last year.
Camara gives Jamil more breathing space, Ferrando less
NorthEast United vs FC Goa was a study in the issues plaguing both sides. Rochharzela scored a superb opener for the former, Alexander Romario Jesuraj scored a deserved equaliser and then it was more of what we’ve been seeing from the two teams this season. NorthEast sat back and found no threat on the counter. Goa dominated the ball and had more than twice the shots of their opposition but showed no real penetration.
It looked like the game would meander to nothingness till Khassa Camara came up with an absolute worldie in the 93rd minute to give Khalid Jamil some breathing space. He has a win, three points that will feel even more valuable in terms of that great intangible, confidence.
For Juan Ferrando, though, a third defeat in three means the pressure on him has been turned up a notch or three. Goa v East Bengal (who look equally poor) later tonight is a big, big match for both teams.
Bengaluru FC show promise
What if Sunil Chhetri had slotted home that penalty? What if? At the time, Bengaluru FC were level with Mumbai City in the scoreline and on top of them on the pitch. Taking a lead into halftime would have changed the complexion of the match entirely — but in the end, City’s ruthlessness in front of goal saw them ease home with the three points. It was the kind of win that lends greater credibility to their title-defending-credentials
Now he may not have gotten the points, but Marco Pezzaiuoli will have plenty of positives to take with him. This is the kind of high-pressing, high-tempo game that he promised on arrival, and it appears his charges have finally got a grasp of what’s needed of them. They were sharp, combative, and rather good for large parts of this match. Should make for a fun rest-of-the-season, even if Chhetri’s form is a rather large dampener.
The ISL calendar needs change
This drum has been beaten often, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done again and again till it’s not needed anymore — The ISL calendar is far from ideal. A match-a-day is excessive, two-a-day is incomprehensibly so (even if it’s so much better that they have shifted the second match to a late night kickoff from an early evening one).
From any point of view the whole thing makes very little sense. The coaches have next-to-no time to implement their philosophies and tactics on their teams. The players have little time to adapt to the often frequent coaching changes, have lower recovery periods, and less time to get into optimum physical condition. As for the fans, well, surely it gets a bit exhausting, a touch dull as matches blend into each other over the later stages of the season? And all this is exacerbated by the unevenness of the schedule which means there is no consistency in breaks between a team’s matches.
Everyone wants more football, but if it’s spread out, it can only benefit all concerned.
A caveat — you can understand wanting to get it over with as fast as possible this season (and last). No one wants to be in a bio-bubble for longer than they have to. But once a semblance of normalcy returns, it’s time to seriously rethink the calendar.