The campaign is heading towards the business end as the top four has begun taking shape.

The 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) has entered the second half and teams are all set for the business end. Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan have been head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the competition so far. Meanwhile, FC Goa have been on a resurgent streak and Hyderabad FC have emerged as the surprise package.

Teams like Jamshedpur FC, NorthEast United and Chennaiyin FC have had middling campaigns so far, while the likes of Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC have flocked the bottom places. SC East Bengal, despite a poor start, are currently in brilliant form. However, the standings can change quickly, as the season enters its business end early next month.

Naturally, there are several forthcoming encounters that will have a decisive impact upon the respective teams’ fate. In this article, Khel Now elaborates on five matches to look forward to in the second half of ISL 2020-21.

5. FC Goa Vs Hyderabad FC: 28 February

WATCH: Ishan Pandita scored a late winner for FC Goa the last time they faced Hyderabad FC

The Gaurs and the Nizams occupy the third and fourth positions in the points table currently. They will next meet on 28 February at the Fatorda Stadium, which will be the final day of the league stages. The two sides can be expected to hover around the third/fourth places in the playoffs race until the very end. Hence, the match at the end of February could possibly become a do-or-die encounter for the teams.

Goa defeated Hyderabad 2-1 through an injury-time winner from Igor Angulo in the first face-off between the two sides earlier this season. The two teams look to follow a similar brand of football, in which they emphasize on maintaining possession and moving the ball swiftly.

Goa might just edge Hyderabad in terms of squad depth to maintain their ongoing momentum until the end. However, Manolo Marquez’s men have surprised one and all with their performances so far. Hence, one can never rule out a revenge victory when the two clubs next come against each other.

4. ATK Mohun Bagan Vs SC East Bengal: 19 February

WATCH: Manvir Singh scored a wonderful solo goal the last time ATK Mohun Bagan faced SC East Bengal in ISL 2020-21

The two Kolkata giants will play their reverse fixture on 19 February at the Fatorda Stadium. The first Kolkata Derby resulted in a comfortable 2-0 victory for ATK Mohun Bagan. However, that was SC East Bengal’s first game of the season and they were perhaps under-prepared for such a high-octane contest. Robbie Fowler’s men are gradually gaining feet after a very disappointing start to the campaign.

The Red and Gold haven’t been defeated in their last six games. They even collected encouraging victories against Odisha and Bengaluru FC in the meanwhile and look better equipped to take on the big guns now. New additions like Raju Gaikwad and Bright Enobakhare have had an instant impact on the team.

The whole squad will be raring to take on Antonio Habas’ men by mid-February and that will possibly make for a really exciting encounter. ATKMB will be fighting to finish at the top spot and East Bengal can spoil those plans towards the fag end of the campaign.

3. Mumbai City FC Vs Bengaluru FC: 15 February

WATCH: Mumbai City FC surged past Bengaluru FC 3-1 the last time they faced each other in ISL 2020-21

Mumbai City and Bengaluru will face-off again on 15 February at the GMC Stadium. The Islanders recorded a convincing 3-1 victory over the Blues a couple of weeks ago. Carles Cuadrat was sacked after that game and an era arguably concluded for the Blues. The team have since put up spirited performances against East Bengal and NorthEast United under the tutelage of Naushad Moosa.

One can rest assured that they won’t give up so easily when the teams meet next. The players will possibly adapt more convincingly to Moosa’s style by then. Moreover, induction of some new talents will infuse fresh energy into the setup. Moreover, the Islanders can’t afford to drop points at any stage of the season, especially with ATKMB breathing down their necks.  Hence, they will have to gear up for a real contest when Sunil Chhetri leads his men out next time around.

2. Kerala Blasters FC Vs Chennaiyin FC: 21 February

WATCH: Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin FC played a out nine-goal thriller last season in Kochi

Kerala Blasters have had a tough time so far, having won only two of their 11 games. The Kochi-based club have a fickle history with respect to sticking by their head coaches. Hence, that casts doubt over the future of Kibu Vicuna. Given that they persist with him, the team can be slated to deliver improved results by the end of the season. They will be undeniably looking to finish the campaign on a positive note.

For that, the Blasters will have to overcome the Chennaiyin challenge at the GMC Stadium on 21 February. The Southerners share a renowned rivalry and that adds an extra flavour to the matchup. The two teams will be edging to secure three points after playing out a goalless draw in their first fixture.

Csaba Laszlo’s men are within touching distance of the playoffs spots. They will surely give the other mid-table teams a run for their money until the end. Anticipating certain challenging playoffs scenarios, the contest between Chennaiyin and Kerala will be quite fascinating.

1. FC Goa Vs Chennaiyin FC: 13 February

WATCH: Chennaiyin FC edged FC Goa 2-1 the last time they met each other in ISL 2020-21

The Gaurs will be coming up against famed rivals Chennaiyin FC on 13 February at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim. The Marina Machans have played a game less and are five points behind Laszlo’s team currently. So, it is not really a neck-to-neck battle between the two sides in the points table. However, Goa and Chennaiyin have played some really exciting, high-scoring encounters in the past. 11 goals were scored when the two sides met over two legs of the semi-final in ISL 2019-20.

Chennaiyin triumphed 2-1 over the Gaurs in December and that defeat had particularly irked the latter’s head coach Juan Ferrando. The Spaniard will be eager to avenge that loss when the teams meet again in February. Chennaiyin have already dropped 19 points from a possible 33 in the league. Naturally, they will not be in a position to concede any more defeats to sustain their own playoffs ambitions. Surely, this will make for a cracker of a contest.

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