The first half of the campaign has set the season in tune for a nail-biting finish.

The 2021-22 Indian Super League (ISL) season has promptly delivered enthralling action. The eighth season of the Indian top-flight has seen goals, thrills, spills and more. This campaign has already witnessed 188 goals scored and we have just passed the halfway stage. As a result, this is the highest mid-season goal tally in the history of the Indian Super League.

The early season playoff pace-setters include Kerala Blasters, Jamshedpur FC, Hyderabad FC and defending champions Mumbai City FC. Hyderabad’s Bartholomew Ogbeche tops the goalscoring charts with nine goals. He is closely followed by Igor Angulo of Mumbai City FC.

This season has given us a lot of action to cherish. But it has also provided many questions to ponder upon and think about. So here are Khel Now’s top five talking points from the first half of ISL 2021-22.

5. Mumbai City FC have chinks in their armour

Mumbai City
After five wins in their first six, Mumbai are now winless in their last five matches (Courtesy: ISL Media)

The defending champions continued from where they left off last season. Mumbai City FC had a summer of change with a new coach and some new players. But the Islanders started brilliantly by winning five of their first six games.

But the defending champions have found the folly of their own ways in the last few games. Having won five of their first six games, Des Buckingham’s men are winless in their last five. They have taken only one point in these five games. Their defeats haven’t been pretty too.

Mumbai have conceded three or more goals in all their four defeats this season. This shows a clear drop in the quality of their defence and overall gameplay. While they still remain in the playoff spots and are the top goalscorers in the league, Mumbai City FC have dropped off a cliff in quality. Hence, they are having to now nervously look over their shoulders at teams behind them in the playoff race. It shows that they aren’t the indomitable force we thought they could be at the beginning of the season.

4. The lack of an extra foreigner has hurt teams

This season, the ISL ruled that teams should play with only four foreigners. This was a change from the earlier rules which mandated that teams could play up to five foreigners in their team.

The lack of an extra foreigner has had a palpable effect on the teams. Some have been positive, while others are negative. The biggest positive out of this is more opportunities for young Indian talents to flourish. The ruling has helped unearth more exciting Indian youngsters.

Naorem Roshan Singh, Ruivah Hormipam, and Devendra Murgaonkar are a few of many talented Indian players who have shot to prominence this season. While the new foreigners’ rule has curtailed teams in terms of results, it has made the league more open with young Indian talents coming out.

3. Kerala Blasters are early favourites for the ISL Shield

Kerala Blasters
Kerala Blasters are currently at the top of the points standings with 20 points (Courtesy: ISL Media)

This ISL 2021-22 season has been marked by the resurgence of Kerala Blasters. The team with arguably the most passionate fanbase in the country had been underperforming in the league before this season.

But the Men in Yellow are playing arguably their best football ever under Ivan Vukomanovic. As a result, they deservedly sit at the top of the ISL standings. In their current form, the Blasters look like early favourites to clinch the ISL shield this season. Perhaps for the first time, they have a team playing with such cohesion and balance. They also have a coach that exerts a lot of confidence and trust in the squad.

The team have the perfect mix of youth and experience and are well led by their tactician. Their games against Mumbai City FC (0-3 win) and Hyderabad FC (1-0 win) give ample credentials for Kerala Blasters’ quality this season. Although Vukomanovic has kept himself and the team grounded, you could bet on his side lifting the ISL Shield in March.

2. The race for playoffs will go till the final day

We talked about Vukomanovic’s Kerala Blasters potentially making it to the podium. But it will definitely not happen without its fair share of competition. The race for the top spot and the playoffs are at a competitive juncture.

Only five points separate the teams placed first and sixth. Therefore, no team can afford to slack and miss out on their chances of finishing at the top or at least making it to the playoff spots. Every team would sense this as their chance, considering the opportunities and perks of continental football that follow.

1. Bio-bubble challenges to continue

ISL 2021-22
Staying in a bubble for a long period it taking a toll on the players’ mental health (Courtesy: ISL Media)

The ongoing Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season has witnessed plenty of action on the pitch. However, it also had to endure plenty of challenges as well. The global COVID-19 pandemic poses one of the biggest challenges.

Similar to the previous season, the league has been played behind closed doors in a bio-bubble. The teams and players continue to struggle in the face of rising cases. Authorities have postponed a couple of games due to cases within teams and there is also a talk going around about potentially postponing the league.

These issues come on the back of plenty of players and staff speaking about the difficulty of staying inside a bio-bubble. Considering these players have provided us with so much entertainment over the last couple of months, it would only help that their safety and mental health are given utmost importance over anything else.

This remains a challenge for organizers and the teams. It remains to be seen the decisions that would be taken as the ISL moves into the second half of the season.

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