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I-League 2018/19: Which teams are still in the title race?

Written by: Neelav Chakravarti

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Chennai City currently lead the pack followed by East Bengal and Real Kashmir.

With the 2018-19 I-League season almost coming to an end, it would be a lie if someone states that there is no title race. This campaign has seen some exciting teams coming into the forefront with their fiery style of football.

Currently leading the pack with 17 matches played, Chennai City are still the clear favourites to win the much-coveted trophy. Meanwhile, East Bengal and Real Kashmir have an outside chance.

In this article, we at Khel Now will take you through the teams who can possibly win the title at the end of the season:

3. Real Kashmir

The Snow Leopards have notched 32 points in 16 matches this season, registering nine wins, five draws, and two losses. The second division champions have scored 19 goals and conceded eight.

Currently ranked third in the league table, behind East Bengal (the Kolkata-based outfit are ahead of Kashmir on goal difference) and Chennai City. David Robertson's side have been a force to reckon with this season, with opponents finding it hard at the TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar. At home, they have played eight fixtures until now, drawing one game and losing two whereas they have won five times .

Real Kashmir has defeated league leaders Chennai City on both occassions in the league this season

When considering their direct opponents to the title, Real Kashmir have defeated Chennai City in both the legs, drawn to East Bengal in Kolkata, with the home leg to be played on 28th February 2019.



With their match against Minerva Punjab having not taken place due to the Pulwama terror attack, points regarding that fixture are still in the dark. AIFF still haven't revealed if both the sides will be given a point each, or will the hosts (Real Kashmir) be given three points as the visitors didn't appear at the home ground. If the Snow Leopards get all three points, it will be a serious boost for them in the title race. Their upcoming clashes are against Indian Arrows (24th February), East Bengal (28th February), and NEROCA FC (date not yet announced).

The encounter against East Bengal at home will be a crucial fixture for both the sides, as the losing outfit will be kicked out of the title race, and a draw is also not realistically feasible. In the first leg, the match ended as a 1-1 draw in Kolkata.

Real Kashmir's first season in the top flight has been nothing but extraordinary 

For the remaining three matches, a lot will be dependent on 21-year-old Ivorian forward Gnohere Krizo, who is the highest goal-getter for his side with four goals in 13 outings. The African has slowly become a crowd favourite in Srinagar. Also, Mason Robertson could have a say in his team's finish. The Scot was roped in to reinforce his side's backline by father David, but was slowly shifted to an attacking midfield role in many fixtures; which was successful too much aplomb. Meanwhile, the creativity will fall on the hands of Danish Farooq Bhat.

The main burden falls on the tactical plans of David Robertson, who has bought in a particular Scottish style of play in the club. The main question for the remaining fixtures are if his son will play behind Krizo, or in the backline.

In simple words, Real Kashmir need to win all their remaining fixtures, if they want to hold the title at the end of the season.

2. East Bengal

Alejandro Menendez has a job in hand right now – that is to win the title this season. The Kolkata-based side have never won the I-League, although they have collected three National Football League titles.

The West Bengal club has registered 32 points in 16 games, with 10 wins, two draws, and four losses.

East Bengal's gameplay has changed massively from last season

The club are currently in second place, ahead of Real Kashmir on goal difference, and five points behind Chennai with a game in hand. Considering their record against their closest title rivals, the Quess-owned side have lost to CCFC in both the legs, while drawing to Kashmir in the home leg. 

In their upcoming fixtures, East Bengal are next up against Aizawl (25th February), Real Kashmir (28th February), Minerva Punjab (3rd March), and Gokulam Kerala (date hasn't been announced yet). The away fixture against Real Kashmir will be a crucial one, as a loss will realistically remove them from the title race.

Jobby Justin has been the breakout Indian star in the I-League this term

A lot will be dependent on star striker Jobby Justin, who has scored nine goals in 16 appearances, behind Willis Plaza and Pedro Manzi in the golden boot race. The Kerala native is even being considered by fans as a star for the Indian team. Laldanmawia Ralte will also have a say in his team's fortunes, with the winger tearing apart opposing defenses this season.

The Red and Gold Brigade have had a topsy-turvy season, and a lot will be dependent on the side's encounter against Real Kashmir in Srinagar. Menendez will need to keep the squad calm ahead of the remaining fixtures, and a clear head could take the battle right to the scruff of Chennai.

1. Chennai City

Chennai City are high-flying this season with impressive attacking-style of football. A complete contrast to last season, the club have benefited a lot from new gaffer Akbar Nawaz and new Spanish acquisitions – Pedro Manzi and Sandro Rodriguez.

Currently leading the pack, Chennai City have notched 37 points in 17 matches, registering 11 wins, four draws, and two losses. The side from South India have scored a whopping total of 40 goals, and also have the highest goal difference in the league.

Chennai City FC are firm favorites to win the I-League this season

En route to this position, the club has had a patchy affair against direct rivals, winning both the legs against East Bengal, and losing to Real Kashmir. Considering that they have played a game extra and have a five-point lead, even if East Bengal and Real Kashmir had played equal matches by now, CCFC would atleast have a two-point lead.

In their remaining matches, the side from Tamil Nadu face Mohun Bagan (24th February), Churchill Brothers (1st March), and Minerva Punjab (date hasn't been announced yet). It is pretty obvious that they have the hardest set of upcoming matches, when considering the teams to face QEB and RKFC. The tie against Churchill will be an entertaining affair, as both the sides love attacking football, and midway through the campaign, the Goan side were also considered as title favourites.


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For Chennai City, a lot will be depending on the performances of Manzi and Sandro. Both of them have been in impressive form this season. Manzi is second in the golden boot race with 18 goals in 15 matches, while Sandro is fourth with seven goals in 17 outings. Also Nestor Gordillo and Alexander Jesusraj will have a say in how the team finished at the end.

Pedro Manzi has arguably been the best player in the I-League this season

Akbar Nawas will need to continue on with similar tactics concentrated around flair and attacking football. The Spanish duo of Pedro and Sandro will be pivotal to their success. The only problem faced by Chennai is the match against Churchill. The Goan side only have pride at stake right now, and will be aiming to notch a famous win over their opponents.

Verdict

Right now, Chennai City seem to be the favourites to win the title, but the remaining set of fixtures could lead to a surprising turn of events. They have three tough opponents coming up; Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers and Minerva Punjab. Kolkata club Mohun Bagan and defending champions Minerva Punjab have had a poor season but could still spring a few surprises tactically. Also, Churchill are devastating attacking wise, with striker Willis Plaza leading the top scorer charts with 18 goals in 18 matches. The Goan side also will be at home, and have a huge chance to dent CCFC's title chances.

East Bengal travel to Srinagar to face Real Kashmir on 28th February, and every team has found it hard to play in the TRC Ground, due to weather conditions and electric support of the Real Kashmir fans. There is a possibility that the Snow Leopards could etch out a win against the Red and Gold Brigade, and if AIFF gives them the three points from the abandoned Minerva match, then they could pose a serious challenge to Chennai in the title race. So, if Chennai lose to Churchill or even Mohun Bagan, then the title could go to Real Kashmir, who have a chance to register 12 points in the upcoming fixtures (including from the abandoned Minerva fixture).

Published: Sat Feb 23, 2019 03:54 PM IST

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