The season has entered its business end with teams vying to finish in the top half.
The I-League 2020-21 season has entered its business end in the first phase as the top six teams will progress to the next round of the league, subject to amendments amidst the pandemic. The league is still very much open as the top nine teams are only divided by five points proving that a bad result at this stage may end hopes of progressing to the next round.
Despite all the pressure, it was another week full of action and drama. Gokulam Kerala came back to winning ways against the consistent TRAU FC whereas Mohammedan Sporting finished second best against the Indian Arrows. While Real Kashmir won a seven-goal thriller against NEROCA, RoundGlass Punjab had a comfortable win over Chennai City FC. Lastly, it was a cagey affair between Sudeva Delhi and Aizawl FC as both sides shared the spoils.
Here are the talking points from an action-packed I-League 2020-21 Gameweek 8:
5. Gokulam Kerala FC’s young guns stand them in good stead
Gokulam Kerala have not been the most consistent side this season in the I-League in terms of results. The Malabarians have struggled to get going and pile up back-to-back wins to consolidate their position in the league table. However, a win against TRAU comes at a good time for Vincenzo Annese’s men. The Italian’s trust in young players was repaid when Vincy Barreto combined with Emil Benny to score the first goal of the game and put Gokulam Kerala in the ascendancy.
The Malabarians broke TRAU’s rhythm by not letting them score early in the game and forced them on the backfoot. It was a well-thought ploy as Gokulam were attacking right from the start and got their goal early on and it was mainly due to the efforts of the younger pack in the team. Annese has always backed the youngsters and therefore players like Sebastian Thangmuansang, Naocha Singh, Vincy Barreto and Emil Benny have managed to play freely without any pressure and give their best on the field. The younger bunch has enough potential in them to propel Gokulam Kerala ahead in the league this season.
4. Are RoundGlass Punjab peaking at the right time?
Just like last season, when Mohun Bagan were in with some goalscoring woes, in came Senegalese forward Papa Babacar Diawara who changed the dynamics of the team. Similarly, this season as well the former Sevilla FC man has joined RoundGlass Punjab and has already scored thrice in two games helping Curtis Fleming’s side gain some momentum. His first match was against Indian Arrows where he scored a brace and was subbed off at the hour mark.
However, he proved his mettle yet again by taking the matters into his own hands and breaking the deadlock against Chennai City FC. With his arrival, it seems that Fleming has found the right balance among the players and they have also looked very solid defensively. The consecutive wins have also helped RPFC to leapfrog over Churchill Brothers to the top of the table and once again allowing the supporters to dream of the I-League title.
3. Was Real Kashmir FC Vs NEROCA the best game of the season so far?
The I-League this season has not been short on goals. Rather, it has been a very unpredictable league for ages and this season has been no different. But one does not get to see seven goals in a match every day that too involving a compact side like Real Kashmir FC. David Robertson’s men came to this match against NEROCA on the back of a big win against the Arrows and a crucial draw against Churchill Brothers. Therefore, they were high on confidence and that was evident in their play as they tried to impose themselves from the start.
The first goal came from a freekick straight from the training ground as Zohib Amiri knocked it down and Lukman Adefemi slotted it home. The second goal was a penalty scored by the Nigerian. While NEROCA pulled one back, the Snow Leopards kept on putting the pressure on the Orange Army. They restored the two-goal lead with another set-piece goal as Mason Robertson got onto the scoresheet. Despite the brilliance of Khaiminthang Lhungdim and Songpu Singsit the Snow Leopards were just too good for the Imphal-based outfit.
2. Inconsistent Black Panthers struggling to deal with high expectations
Just when it seemed that Mohammedan Sporting will be picking their form up with the arrival of attacking reinforcements, they lost to Indian Arrows. The Black Panthers have struggled for form this season and with John Chidi coming in, they earned a win against Gokulam Kerala after a series of four draws. However, now all that good work is undone with a defeat against the Arrows.
Despite a bright start to the game, it was the Arrows who broke the deadlock from a free-kick putting Mohammedan Sporting on the backfoot. The Black Panthers were extremely one dimensional in attack as the wingers constantly looked to target John Chidi in the penalty area with their crosses. There was not a proper defence-splitting pass through the centre and therefore, it was easier for their young counterparts to defend. Arrows goalkeeper Ahan Prakash also had a good game as he came up with several vital saves and inspired his side to their first win this season.
There is certainly a sense of pressure and expectations from the fans to do well. However, it is suddenly looking like a load that the players are not able to carry. At the business end of the season, another defeat may end their campaign.
1. How high can Sudeva Delhi finish?
The debutants have been the surprise package this season in the I-League. They have played some good brand of football and have troubled the best of the teams with their flair and tenacity in the attack. While defence needs a lot of work for Chencho Dorji’s side, the attack led by the experienced Kean Lewis has been their forte this season. The Delhi-based outfit have shown an attacking spirit on all of their games. They have been decent till now, but if they work on their defence Sudeva will get more wins in their bag.
A win against Aizawl would’ve been a favourable result, especially after Lewis scoring an early goal. But again, the young Indian forwards struggle to be clinical in front of goal. This is an area where they may look for foreign options next season and maybe a defender also to lead the backline. Nevertheless, they’ve been very solid so far. If they play to their potential, they can even progress to the next round by finishing in the top six which will be a huge thing for an all-Indian team in their first season.