The competition has seen some great action on the pitch this season.

The league stages of the 2021/22 I-League season came to an end on April 19, bringing an end to weeks of thrilling action in Kolkata. Gokulam Kerala reigned supreme in the league stages, topping the table after being unbeaten in their 12 games. Along with six other teams, the defending champions will now play in the Championship phase.

With that being said, the bottom six sides of the league stages have not seen their campaigns ended just yet. Indeed, the bottom six will now have to play in the relegation phase of the competition and have to fight hard to avoid dropping down to the I-League second division next season.

Format of the league stages

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the I-League changed its format in the 2020/21 season to accommodate a full season. Like the previous campaign, this season has also seen the format of the league stages having all the teams face each other once in a round-robin format. All 13 teams played against each other, with the top seven moving onto the Championship round and the remaining to play in the relegation phase.

Format of the Relegation Phase

The teams who finished eighth and below in the league stages will have to play in the relegation phase. As per league rules, only one team will be relegated to the second division next season. The team which finishes last (not Indian Arrows as they’re exempted from relegation) will go down next season.

All the six teams will face each other once in a Round-Robin type format in the relegation phase. The team with the lowest overall point total and the one to finish dead last in the relegation phase table will be the one to go down.

Looking at performances of Phase 1

Real Kashmir, TRAU FC, and Aizawl FC came closest to finishing in the top half of the table in the league stages. However, the Snow Leopards drew too many (7) games, while TRAU and Aizawl suffered six and eight losses respectively – ending their hopes of qualifying for the championship round. Here is a look at every team’s performance in the league stages.

1. Real Kashmir

Mason Robertson had captained Real Kashmir from the front (Courtesy: I-League)

Real Kashmir were one of the outside favorites to win the I-League title this season, but things have gone awry for them. Ever since a Covid-19 outbreak happened in their squad back in January, things seem to have turned against them. The Snow Leopards had a frustrating league stage, drawing seven of their 12 games. They just won two games, which wasn’t enough to sneak a place in the top seven and they’ll have to fight in the relegation stages after an underwhelming league campaign.

Key performer: Mason Robertson had an excellent league stages campaign personally, scoring nine goals.

2. Aizawl FC

Aizawl FC had a very ‘go hard or go home’ approach to the I-League league stages. They won four games, but lost on eight occasions in the league stages. The former champions’ attacking approach, fearlessness and desire to stick with their principles resulted in some thrilling games. However, the lack of quality as compared to the other teams caused them to fall behind the top of the crop in the league. They’ll now have to fight hard to stay alive in the I-League for next season and avoid relegation.

Key Performer: Forward Ramhlunchhunga was one of Aizawl’s shining stars in the league stages, scoring three goals – making him the second-highest Indian scorer in that phase.

3. TRAU FC

TRAU FC have struggled to replicate their form from last season (Courtesy: I-League)

After having a very impressive 2020-21 campaign, in which they qualified for the Championship stages and finished just three points behind winner Gokulam Kerala, there was a lot of expectations from TRAU FC this time. But the jumbled up campaign seems to have taken a toll on them. They only got 12 points from a possible 36 in the league stages, winning only two games and find themselves having to fight in the relegation phase this time around.

Key performer: Brazilian star Fernandinho proved to be TRAU’s most prolific foreigner, scoring four goals in the league phase.

4. Sudeva Delhi

For Sudeva Delhi, it was a case of Déjà vu again in the league phase of this season. Just like the last season, which was their debut campaign in the I-League, the Delhi side finished in the bottom half of the table. As a result, they’ll again have to fight for themselves in the relegation phase and need to work hard to stay in the I-League next season.

Key performer: Sudeva Delhi’s goalkeeper Sachin Jha has had a very impressive campaign, managing to keep four clean-sheets and only conceded 16 goals in 12 league stages appearances.

5. Indian Arrows

I-League Indian Arrows
The Arrows have produced some shocking results in I-League 2021-22 (Courtesy: AIFF Media)

The Indian Arrows side have considerably improved their performances from the 2020/21 campaign, in which they only had four points and one win in 10 games. In this season’s league stages, the Arrows side managed to pick up nine points and get two wins from 12 games, more than double their tally from the last campaign. Despite that, they will need to play in the relegation phase and prove their mettle against the bottom-half sides.

Key performer: Indian Arrows’ goalkeeper Syed Zahid was among their best performers in the league, keeping three clean sheets.

6. Kenkre FC

In their debut campaign, Kenkre FC suffered a very harsh reality check in the I-League. They were not able to win a single game from the 12 games, only drawing twice and losing 10 games! While things have improved in the relegation phase (they’ve won 2 games), Kenkre are way behind the others in the relegation phase table and will have to produce a gigantic effort to avoid relegation this season.

Points table at end of league phase

Fixtures Relegation Phase

Aizawl FC vs Real Kashmir FC – April 22 – 3:00 PM

Sudeva Delhi FC vs Kenkre FC  – April 22 – 5:00 PM   

Tiddim Road Athletic Union vs Indian Arrows – April 22 – 8:00 PM

Real Kashmir FC vs Indian Arrows – April 25 – 3:00 PM

Tiddim Road Athletic Union vs Sudeva Delhi FC – April 25 – 05:05 PM 

Aizawl FC vs Kenkre FC – April 25 – 08:05 PM

Indian Arrows vs Aizawl FC – April 28 – 03:00 PM

Kenkre FC  vs Tiddim Road Athletic Union – April 28 – 05:00 PM

Real Kashmir FC vs Sudeva Delhi FC – April 28 – 08:00 PM

Sudeva Delhi FC vs Indian Arrows – May 1 – 03:00  

Kenkre FC vs Real Kashmir FC – May 1 – 05:00 PM       

Tiddim Road Athletic Union vs Aizawl FC – May 1 – 08:00 PM     

Real Kashmir FC vs Tiddim Road Athletic Union – May 4 – TBC

Aizawl FC vs Sudeva Delhi FC – May 4 – TBC   

Indian Arrows vs Kenkre FC – May 4 – TBC       

What to Expect

None of the six eligible teams will want to experience the bitterness of relegation at the end of the relegation phase. As a result, these sides will be even more invigorated to win their remaining games as they’re fighting for their futures in this competition.

Kenkre FC are currently well behind the other four sides in the relegation phase table. Unless they’re able to produce something miraculous, like win all their remaining games, it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to avoid relegation.

However, expect a tough battle between them and Sudeva Delhi – who have experienced a drop in form in recent weeks. Indian Arrows should look to finish the campaign strongly by pulling a few surprises here and there.

Real Kashmir, Aizawl FC, and TRAU FC will look to quickly end any possibility of their relegation. After that is then, expect a tough battle between the two in the race to ‘top’ the relegation phase table.

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