The Nizams halted the Islanders’ winning run with a goalless draw on Saturday.

The 12th Gameweek of the 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) concluded with the match between Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC. The Islanders continue to hold the top spot in the points table, despite a draw against the Nizams.

Contrastingly, Odisha FC’s defeat to Chennaiyin FC means that they still occupy the last spot in the standings. There were not many significant changes to the table after this week’s results. However, a few interesting developments did take place within the clubs and Khel Now ponders upon the five talking points from the gameweek gone by:

5. Have NorthEast United timed Gerard Nus’ sacking right?

NorthEast United sacked head coach Gerard Nus after their sixth draw of the season in the match against Bengaluru FC. The Highlanders had started the campaign positively, causing an upset by defeating Mumbai City 1-0 in their opening game. However, the team had been winless in their last six games and had collected a series of draws. Nus had led the team to only three defeats in his 11 games in-charge. Infact, NEUFC were placed in the playoffs positions in eight of the 11 matches so far.  

The points table is quite congested right now. Only five points separate fourth-placed Hyderabad FC and ninth-placed SC East Bengal as of now. Such equations can be conveniently turned around with a short streak of positive results. Nus was arguably well-placed to ensure that the team finishes the season on a high given that he had already worked with the squad for around 2-3 months.

Hence, one wonders whether the club moved hastily to dismiss the head coach. He was handling a completely new squad and had fared decently overall. Firing a young coach who worked with the team in a very short pre-season and delivered fairly reasonable results thereafter does not bode well for the club’s prospects.

4. Esmael Goncalves: Chennaiyin FC’s man of the hour

ISL 2020-21: Isma’s brace helped Chennaiyin FC grab the three points against Odisha FC

Chennaiyin had recently hit a stumbling block with only one win in their six matches before the game against Odisha FC on January 13th.  However, Esmael Goncalves turned things around for them right from the offset against the Juggernauts. The 29-year-old missed a fairly easy goalscoring opportunity in the fifth minute.

However, the striker capitalized on a defensive error by Odisha to win the ball back and neatly put it into the back of the net. Just a few minutes later, Goncalves interlinked brilliantly near the box with Anirudh Thapa, as the latter won a penalty for the team. The forward calmly struck the ball past the goalkeeper to notch a brace.

The former OGC Nice player was supposed to be one of the key signings for the Marina Machans this season. However, injury concerns mean that he has only started four games so far and clocked a paltry 45 minutes per game. However, Goncalves led the team from the front in the crucial encounter against Odisha and Csaba Lsazlo will be anticipating more of the same from the mercurial striker.

3. FC Goa finding their feet under Juan Ferrando

Despite being placed third in the table, FC Goa seem to have underachieved until now given the high standards that they have set for themselves. The club looked to have lost the plot after consecutive losses against ATK Mohun Bagan and Chennaiyin FC in December.

Head coach Juan Ferrando was particularly visibly disappointed post the result against Laszlo’s team. However, the Gaurs have gradually upped the ante and collected three wins and a solitary draw since then. They recorded a clinical 3-0 victory against Jamshedpur FC in the last Gameweek, as star winger Jorge Ortiz bagged a brace.

Missing out on a playoffs spot will be catastrophic for a team of Goa’s stature. Ferrando looks to have sailed them to a safe place, with 18 points and a two-point lead over the fourth-placed Hyderabad for now. However, the Gaurs will face a stern test against ATK Mohun Bagan on Sunday.

This match will determine whether they can close the gap with Mumbai City at the top. However, a dynamic frontline coupled with a reliable defence give the team a settled look under Ferrando’s tutelage for the time being.

2. SC East Bengal and Kerala Blasters: Destined for mid-table finish?

ISL 2020-21: SC East Bengal held Kerala Blasters to 1-1 draw

SC East Bengal and Kerala Blasters played out a 1-1 draw on Friday. Teams placed in the middle of the points table have a very fair chance of making it into the top four going ahead. However, these two sides have so far failed to produce consistent spells to enhance their playoffs prospects. Robbie Fowler’s men have drawn thrice in their last five matches.

Similarly, the Kochi-based club have faced three defeats and a draw in their previous five games. The two teams are placed at the ninth and 10th spots in the ISL 2020-21 standings respectively. There have been occasions when they have sprung hopes of a possible revival in form. However, the outcome has been more or less drab eventually. The Blasters have conceded 20 goals in 11 games, which is the most among all the teams in the league.

The Kolkata club are placed third in these rankings, having given away 16 goals so far. Both teams have fairly seasoned coaches at the helm and they will have to find a way to bring their sides out of this muddled situation. Because neither of them inspire enough confidence to scale up the table.

1. Manolo Marquez aces tactical battle to hold Mumbai City FC

Mumbai City had practically rolled over Hyderabad FC in the first match between the two sides in December. However, Manolo Marquez setup his team brilliantly to avoid the same result this time around. The Nizams put a brake on Ahmed Jahouh’s influence from the middle of the park. Marquez reflected on the same in the post-match press conference, as he said, “Yes, our plan was not to concede and after the game, I joked with Jahouh about this. We put practically one player with him because his long balls in the first game damaged our team, but my players understood the aim of the game.”

Mumbai’s approach flows through Jahouh whenever the French-Moroccan is fielded in the XI. He is a constant source of creativity, delivering sumptuous long-balls, defence-splitting passes and distributing the ball incisively to the flanks. Hyderabad managed to restrain Mumbai’s attacking moves by curbing Jahouh’s passing avenues. Accordingly, Marquez has certainly shown the other coaches a way to halt Mumbai’s incredible unbeaten streak going ahead in the ISL 2020-21 season.

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