A couple of high-scoring games highlighted the gameweek 18.
With many teams vying for a strong finish to the league stages of 2020-21 season, the Indian Super League (ISL) continued producing some action-packed fixtures and some frustrating ones over the last week. In a gameweek which produced arguably the most entertaining matches as well as the biggest snoozefest this season, it literally had it all.
Mumbai City FC became the first side to successfully qualify for the playoffs with multiple games in hand. ATK Mohun Bagan also closed their gap to the top to one single point. Those behind them were struck in their inconsistencies and struggled to create a real gap for the top spot. Even so, a few interesting points were made clear as we look at the lessons learned from the gameweek 18.
5. Most ‘boring game of the season’ reflects Hyderabad and NorthEast United’s new-found pragmatism
In what was supposed to be the blockbuster Sunday night game between playoffs hopefuls NorthEast United and Hyderabad FC, boiled down to a cagey, frustrating draw. HFC head coach Manolo Marquez simply termed it as ‘boring,’ summing up how the game really panned out. It’s not that the teams didn’t try. They both had multiple shots on target, but just didn’t want to take a risk by going the extra mile.
This cautiousness is perhaps inflicted due to how tight the top four race is with both teams not wanting to give either an advantage. Neither team wanted to ‘bottle it’ after avoiding that throughout the season so far. Even after this draw, the Nizams and the Highlanders have an ample opportunity to qualify for the playoffs. Perhaps by realizing this, they ended up being content with the 0-0 draw.
4. Defensive mistakes sum up Bengaluru FC’s disappointments
Heading into the new season, Bengaluru FC were recognized for their defensive sturdiness which helped them to a lot of success in recent years. However, this time their defence has let them down on multiple occasions – most recently against ATK Mohun Bagan. The Mariners raced to a 2-0 lead in their win over the Blues thanks to a poor penalty conceded by Pratik Chaudhari and a sloppy free-kick which could’ve been another penalty on a different day.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu saved their blushes with some brilliant saves as he’s been doing all season long. While BFC’s misfiring attack definitely needs upgrading, this season, their defence hasn’t held up or been able to keep up their reputation for maintaining one of the tightest defensive records in the league – with only Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC having conceded more.
3. Winless against bottom-placed Odisha sums up Kerala Blasters’ season
Speaking about Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC, they played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in a game nobody wanted to gain just a point from. Kerala pegged back from a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 lead, only to squander it thanks to Diego Mauricio’s brilliance.
This also means that the Blasters have failed to defeat the bottom-placed team in the league in two meetings. That makes them the only team apart from NorthEast United (who still have a game to play vs Odisha) to not have defeated the bottom side this season in the ISL. If they squander points against the weakest teams in the league, Kerala would perhaps have to give up on their hopes of qualifying for the playoffs.
2. Sloppy Chennaiyin FC made to pay for poor summer recruitment
For their third game in a row, Chennaiyin FC were unable to score a goal. It was perhaps ironical that defender Enes Sipovic scored the deciding own-goal against Jamshedpur FC which sums up all of the Marina Machans troubles right now. Their recruitment prior to the start of the season was too experimental and has ended up in disaster. Sipovic might’ve still been a decent buy, but too many have misfired. Fatkhulo Fatkhulloev has fallen flat in the league. Meanwhile, Memo Moura hasn’t been the driving force Csaba Laszlo would’ve hoped for.
Jakub Sylvestr has been a disappointing No. 9 and despite all his good work, Esmael Goncalves has been nowhere near an appropriate replacement for Nerijus Valskis. The domestic players have been underpar and even the coach doesn’t seem suited for the two-time champions. With their season more or less over, it’ll be back to the drawing board for the Chennaiyin FC to get the team back among the top next season.
1. Mumbai City FC’s cold feet vs FC Goa proves Lobera’s project not yet complete
Towards the start of the season, Sergio Lobera had insisted that it’ll take some time for his ‘philosophy’ to get integrated into Mumbai City FC. After the Islanders started winning games on the trot, questions around their style dimmed down. Having dropped points in two out of their last three games, it’s quite obvious that not everything is perfect with the Islanders. Lobera’s side failed to close out a game after a thrilling contest against FC Goa, who clinched a point thanks to a last-gasp Ishan Pandita equalizer deep into added time.
While Mumbai City were still very proficient in the attack against the Gaurs and produced some great stuff, they weren’t mentally strong enough to hold their leads. On the other hand, Goa deserve plaudits for their character. Lobera knows that if his side was completely adapted to his philosophy – the result could’ve been different.