These were a particularly peculiar last few days, given that none of the teams scored more than one goal in any match.
Gameweek 14 of the 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) concluded with Bengaluru FC’s draw against Odisha FC. These were a particularly peculiar last few days, given that none of the teams scored more than one goal in any match. However, the points table remains more or less undisturbed after the past five games. Mumbai City FC retain their top of the table spot with a five-point advantage over second-placed ATK Mohun Bagan.
On the other hand, Kerala Blasters, SC East Bengal and Odisha FC continue to occupy the last three spots in the standings. However, the mid-table is quite congested with only a solitary point separating the fifth-placed NorthEast United FC (15) with the ninth-positioned Kerala Blasters (14). This ensures that we are on the brink of a cracker of the fag end of the campaign. Meanwhile, let us ponder upon the major things we learned from the 14th gameweek of the ISL 2020-21 season.
5. Antonio Habas’ pragmatic approach keeps ATKMB in the hunt for playoffs
The sheer quality in the ATK Mohun Bagan squad makes one believe that they must be netting goals for fun, day in and day out. However, that is far from reality and somewhat brilliantly explains the versatility of the sport too. Antonio Lopez Habas has carved a niche personally that is best presented in the style of play that his team adopts. The Kolkata-based club bagged three points against Chennaiyin FC through an injury-time winner from David Williams.
The team is comfortably positioned in the second spot in the table currently. However, they have scored the third-least number of goals (13) so far. The key to their success lies in solid defensive organization further upgraded by the likes of Sandesh Jhingan, Tiri and Subhasish Bose this year. Habas is certainly paving the way for a more pragmatic brand of football in a league that is increasingly developing a fetish for free-flowing, attacking approaches. Whether he can continue this method to lift his third ISL trophy is keenly anticipated.
4. Have teams nullified Jamshedpur FC’s Nerijus Valskis dimension?
Owen Coyle brought Lithuanian striker Nerijus Valskis along with him to Jamshedpur FC from Chennai. It was pretty clear right from the offset that Valskis will lead the line for the Men of Steel. He started off the campaign brilliantly and has scored eight goals in 13 appearances until now. However, it is gradually becoming apparent that the team is being over-dependent on him to get to the scoresheet. It is quite apparent from the fact that Valskis is goalless in the last three games and Jamshedpur have managed to put the ball into the back of the net only once in these matches.
The team have scored merely 13 goals in 13 games until now and instead conceded 17 of them. This somewhat explains their lowly position in the points table. Jamshedpur need to find other avenues to notch goals if they need to get a go-ahead anytime soon. They roped in Seiminlen Doungel and Farukh Choudhary in the last week to address that concern for the time being. The newly-inducted duo needs to get in the groove straightaway for Jamshedpur to finish the season on a strong note.
3. Versatile Mumbai City have different ways to win
The hallmark of a champion team can be their ability to notch victories even when they don’t play to their fullest potential. Perhaps, Mumbai City FC displayed that in abundance in their narrow 1-0 victory over SC East Bengal. Sergio Lobera’s men gained a lead in the 27th minute through a goal from Mourtada Fall. They failed to double their advantage despite ample opportunities to do so in the first-half.
However, Robbie Fowler’s team pushed Mumbai to the edge in the final 45 minutes. SC East Bengal heaped on waves of attacks, pegging the Islanders and even dominating possession (64%) at the end of play. Mumbai managed to hold on to their lead courtesy a stellar defensive performance from Mourtada Fall. Lobera was seemingly disappointed with his team’s performance and called for several improvements in the post-match press conference. However, deep inside, he must be proud of the way his team showed incredible grit to claim the three points despite encountering a complicated challenge against East Bengal.
2. What next for Odisha FC?
Odisha FC headed into the campaign positively with a flurry of exciting young talents in their roster. However, that initial bout of optimism has died down quite soon with a run of disappointing results. The Juggernauts have claimed only one victory in their 13 encounters and are placed at the bottom of the table with only eight points to their name.
They are a good 10 points off the fourth spot and frankly it would be far-fetched for them to harbour semi-final aspirations for now. Instead, Odisha can maybe take a leaf from Hyderabad’s book and prepare well for the next campaign. The Nizams were in a similar position like Odisha last season. At around this time, they announced that Albert Roca will take over as the head coach for the next campaign and built their whole squad with that agenda.
Now, they have made leaps of improvement to be one of the topmost contenders for the playoffs spot. Odisha might choose to stick with Stuart Baxter, but they need some quality additions to the lineup. The youthful exuberance in their squad can be further boosted with some impactful foreign internationals. Otherwise, with the league allowing Indian coaches to take over the top spots from this season, Odisha can also look to hire a domestic coach for the longer run. Certainly, the newbie Indian players in their squad can benefit from a familiar face at the helm of affairs.
1. What constitutes a successful season for FC Goa?
FC Goa went through a complete squad overhaul in the summer. They roped in several new domestic and international players, along with a coach untested in Indian football. However, one can pretty surely state that the Gaurs’ management always put their bets on a long-term project. Earlier, they had given lengthened ropes and support to both Zico and Sergio Lobera and attained varying degrees of success. Hence, Juan Ferrando can rest assured that he and his players will be provided a considerable period of time to prove their true mettle.
The Gaurs played out a 1-1 draw against Kerala Blasters but are placed at the third-spot in the points table. They have had a few underwhelming moments in this campaign. But, that is largely bound to happen considering the completely new setup that is at their disposal. They still are very well-placed to qualify for the playoffs. Needless to say, it is anybody’s game once a team is in the last-four. The Gaurs can very well have a solid shot at their maiden ISL title if Ferrando manages to see them off to the semi-finals. And that will definitely constitute a successful season for the incumbent holders of the league-winners’ shield.