The competition has gained a great thrust and the upcoming games will only be more intriguing to watch.
If not anything else, the I-League cannot be called predictable this season after the way things have panned out in the early months. Entertaining matches, pleasing surprises and action-packed games have been constant factors in glowing up its reputation.
But, what makes it even more nail-biting is how competitive the league is in its relatively early stages. There’s only a three-point difference between league-leaders Mohun Bagan and sixth-placed Aizawl FC. It is quite vindicating how tightly-contested things have been.
That said, unless something drastic maintains this crazy intensity to the title race, only certain clubs will rise over the rest to make a proper tilt for the championship. As more teams start squaring off against each other, one after another should fall out from the race.
Kibu Vicuna’s Mohun Bagan have roared back after a disappointing start, to sit comfortably at the pinnacle of the league table. The back-to-back wins against fellow title-contenders Gokulam Kerala and Real Kashmir proved how solid a unit they are. Bagan’s new Spanish signings are making their salsa sweetly grind together results, with Joseba Beitia and Fran Gonzalez leading from the front.
Now, with quality strikers in Baba Diawara and Komron Tursunov, their attacking bite should get even more vicious. However, questions remain on their defensive authority, with sloppy mistakes costing them big. But, with the team starting to gel together, the positives should overwhelm the negatives. Their quench for outperforming East Bengal should also push them to gunning for the title.
After years of dismay, this might also be East Bengal’s year. But, they must be more consistent, especially when the season reaches it’s business end. Alejandro Menendez’s side look pumped to go all the way and the experienced Spaniard’s influence can now perhaps be felt.
With some tweaks in the squad and effective foreign signings, the Red and Gold look much less likely to implode. They have varied defensive options, but are yet to find the perfect combination to churn out clean-sheets. However, they possess plenty of steel and creativity in midfield, with Juan Mera Gonzalez being an inspired buy. Gonzalez’s stark vision has led Manuel de la Espada and Jaime Colado to amp up their goal-scoring whirl.
They’re grinding out wins but also coming up with dominant ones occasionally to make a statement to the others. The recent loss to Churchill Brothers proved they’re slayable, but Menendez must etch his never-say-die attitude into making his side mentally stronger to avoid any speed-bumps and scurry forward in the title race.
Perhaps the most surprising story this season so far is the rejuvenation of the 2017-18 champions Punjab FC. Toiling in the lower places last season, they’ve come back to full power this season around, sitting in 3rd place!
Smart recruitment and a budding young coach willing to take risks in inspiring a fearless attitude in his team have paid off. Sergio Barboza Jr is making his Brazilian samba to good use, while Asier Pierrick Dipanda Dicka’s been the clinical striker they want. Even a 30-year-old Sanju Pradhan is driving them forward with his stark creativity.
Youngsters Thoiba Singh and Makan Chothe are keeping their philosophy of promoting youngsters in check, while certain grizzled veterans have brought the right balance. It remains to be seen whether this topsy-turvy side can maintain its footing in the long run, but they’ve shown a lot of promise with efficient performances so far.
Gokulam Kerala are certainly still in the running for the title despite a setback to Mohun Bagan. Fernando Varela’s side perhaps possesses the strongest structure amongst all I-League sides, but inexperience is costing them. Marcus Joseph and Henry Kisekka are proving to be a deadly duo too, while their hard-working domestic players are helping keep up an upbeat tempo.
Henry Kisekka-led Gokulam Kerala stand fifth in the I-League points table
The Malabarians should get better once all their attackers find a soothing rhythm to support their clinical superstars. So should Real Kashmir, who’ve had some fixtures postponed due to scheduling issues. Dave Robertson has furthered strengthened his side’s cores which has become a hard nut to crack.
Though they’re not the most prolific sides going forward, versatile cog Mason Robertson should eventually start aiding the new foreigners into finding their footing and adding more fireworks to their attacking line. Knowing their mental strength, however, the Snow Leopards should come out firing once the onslaught of fixtures piles up.
Churchill Brothers possess enough weapons in their arsenal to run riot against just about anyone, and are ploughing through just about whoever has faced them so far. Despite that one-off upset against a rejuvenated Indian Arrows, they’ve clocked impressive wins over both Kolkata giants in dominating fashion.
Willis Plaza is leading from the front with his vicious goal-scoring techniques, while Dawda Ceesay keeps assisting him. However, the Red Machines’ impressive recruitment has made their defensive line even stronger than before and the local Goan players have further tuned up their rhythm to power them into a comfortable spot in the title race.
Stanley Rozario’s Aizawl FC are another dark horses in the I-League if their youthful side can keep on punching above their weights as the game’s progress. The local boys are proof of how bright Northeast football still is, as their fearless nature has helped clock some impressive results early on.
The I-League title race is going to be reduced to three or four definite contenders once it really hits its stride. With some interesting big games ahead, only those with nerves of steel will be able to thrive under the pressure right up until March.