The competition is set to begin on 7th October 2022 with fans returning to the stadiums.

Indian football fans can’t stay calm as the new season of ISL is just days away and that too, with a new playoffs structure. The commencement of the league in early October coincides with the festive season in the country. League organizers have put out several promos which focus on the presence of fans in the stadiums. Fans are going to come back to the stands after a pandemic-induced gap of two years. Hence, with the pandemic now over, the country is gearing up for an exciting season that would see the league travel across the entire country.

The 11 teams participating in the league have left no stones unturned in their pre-season training. While many fielded their senior team in the Durand Cup to gauge their standing, many went abroad to ensure that players get a solid start for the season. For the upcoming edition, the league has changed its playoff qualification system. Now, the top six, instead of four, will get a chance to qualify for the playoffs. The bottom four will play eliminators among themselves in order to qualify for the semis. This expansion from four to six teams would definitely make many teams hopeful of gaining glory this season. Here, we take a look at the six teams that might benefit the most from this expansion.

6. East Bengal FC

East Bengal earned a victory after 227 days when they defeated Mumbai City in the Durand Cup 2022. (Courtesy: Durand Cup Media)

The happiest team with the given expansion is definitely going to be East Bengal FC. East Bengal entered ISL two years ago and have had back-to-back disastrous seasons. Last season, the club finished rock-bottom with just one win in the entire competition. This year, a new-look East Bengal under a new management would like to make amendments and put smiles on their fans’ faces. As the club has a relatively new team with a new yet experienced coach, the target should be pragmatic, to say the least.

5. NorthEast United FC

Barring a handful of seasons, NorthEast United have been consistently poor. Many consider them the sole consistent underperforming team in the league. It was witnessed last year as well, when they finished second-last, just above East Bengal. They should look to change their fortunes this year.

The intent from the club is quite clear from their foreign signings. Matt Derbyshire is just one example with most of the other players having vast experience of playing in European leagues. The expansion provides them another window to impress. The task for the management is cut out clearly, i.e. they should aim for the sixth position on the points table at the least.

4. Odisha FC

Odisha FC began its ISL journey in 2019, after the erstwhile Delhi Dynamos FC rechristened itself into its current form. This journey, however, has not been joyful yet, as the club has not reached the ISL playoffs ever. They should eye this year’s expansion as a big opportunity to reach the coveted playoffs for the first time in their history. With Josep Gombau returning to the helm, the fans can hope that Odisha will shine this season!

3. ATK Mohun Bagan

ATK Mohun Bagan’s season began in a disastrous manner in which they bowed out of the Durand Cup from the group stage, losing the group’s second position to a spirited Rajasthan United. They also lost their much-awaited AFC Cup Inter-zonal semifinal at their home in Kolkata.

ATK Mohun Bagan players are completely focused in training before the ISL begins. (Courtesy: ATKMB Media)

Their attack looked weak in both competitions, especially after the departure of ace strikers Roy Krishna and David Williams. Head coach Juan Ferrando is already under pressure from the management for the current condition of the team. Thus, the team might view the expansion as a respite. This expansion may even help the team, which lacks sharpness in their attack, to reach the ISL playoffs.

2. Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin FC had their last good season in 2019-20, in which they reached the final. After that, the team lost its way in the last two editions of the league. In both these editions, the team finished eighth. They should eye a turnaround this season under new head coach Thomas Brdaric. The intent is clear from the side from the manner in which they played in the Durand Cup, where they reached the quarter-finals. They will surely like to reach the knockouts of the ISL as well, a prospect which is further aided by the expansion.

1. FC Goa

FC Goa had a very poor season last year per their standards, even more because they were playing at home. They finished third-last on the points table, which is a far cry for the first League Winners’ Shield triumphants of the country. Needless of mention, FC Goa are a club who have reached the ISL playoffs six times in eight campaigns. They didn’t enjoy a good start last season. Moreover, Juan Ferrando leaving the club mid-season to join ATKMB added to the disaster.

This year, the Gaurs are under a new head coach Carlos Pena. They have also made several exciting foreign signings to revive the team’s fortunes. The current expansion further aids this as it means finishing in the top six, instead of four, would be the first hurdle in the process.

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