OPINION: Top 3 contenders for ISL 2017-18
Written by: Atrayo Bhattacharya
After the tremendous success of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Indian football fanatics will now look forward to the brand new edition of the ISL.
The Indian Super League (ISL) this season will be longer than the previous editions and some new names have joined the party. So after being acclaimed by the Asian Football Confederation, Indian players must consider this domestic platform as their best chance to showcase their talent and prove their mettle to the whole country.
The competition is tougher and will last longer than ever. Picking a winner before the tournament is impossible, but after evaluating the squads of the teams, we can come close to predicting one. So, let us take a look at the top three contenders to win the ISL 2017/18
This JSW group owned outfit was founded in 2013 and has become one of the most renowned football teams in India. In these 4 years, they have definitely set high standards for other teams as they have won the I-League twice and made it as far as the finals of the AFC Cup, only to be beaten by the Air Force Club from Iraq. This year again a great performance from Albert Roca's men as they reached the Semi-finals of the AFC Cup.
This will be their first season in ISL for the Blues but they are no strangers when it comes to big tournaments. With Spanish coach Albert Roca been in charge for more than a year allows him to know the Blues more closely.
Bengaluru FC's biggest strength is when they roped in Gurpreet Singh from Stabaek FC as their first choice goalkeeper. Gurpreet has already shown his mettle as he saved a penalty in the second leg against 4.25 SC in North Korea and gave a solid performance against FC Istiklol away at Dushanbe.
When the Blues go marching in... - Bengaluru FC
The Blues definitely have an upper hand over other teams as the team has gelled well and have had an elongated pre-season, ahead of the ISL because of their AFC Cup matches.
Bengaluru have a very versatile attack with big Indian names like Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri. Chhetri brings intelligence and class to the table whereas Udanta is all about raw pace on the wings. Venezuelan striker, Miku will offer the physical presence and aerial threat for oppositions. Former Zaragoza winger Edu Garcia is also a good option, as he regularly featured on the Spanish side before donning the Blues outfit and he also can play as a left back if required.
Options at the back include ever so dependable Juanan and Englishman John Johnson, Roca will be hoping for an injury-free season for both players as the Blues lack a perfect backup for them. Bengaluru are also lacking in options for reliable goalkeeping backup to Gurpreet Singh. Gurpreet is an excellent first-choice under the sticks but players like Abhra Mandal and Lalthuammawia Ralte have not seen a lot of first-team football and are not as solid in goal.
Young prospects like Subhashish Bose and Bidyananda Singh will look at this edition of ISL as their breakthrough season. Bidyananda has impressed last season when he featured for ATK but will hope that under Albert Roca he finds his name on the team list more often. Where left back Subashish Bose featured for Mohun Bagan last season and was pretty impressive.
So Bengaluru FC definitely look like a force to be reckoned with, but we will have to wait and see whether they can lift the ISL trophy this year.
The defending champions are again one of the title contenders this season, although they have a totally different outlook from what we have seen in the last edition. The reigning champions have replaced Jose Molina with Manchester United legend, Teddy Sheringham as their new manager and former manager of Bengaluru FC, Ashley Westwood has joined as their technical director.
Kolkata has a strong attacking unit with players like Robbie Keane, Zequinha and Njazi Kuqi along with Indian names like Robin Singh and Jayesh Rane. Debjit Majumdar in goal has proven himself time and again and was one of the vital cogs in Molina's team that won the trophy last season and this year it will be no different. The midfield will be taken care of by Eugeneson Lyngdoh, the 31-year-old midfielder is known for his interceptions and creativity.
ATK's weakness lies in their dependence on foreign players at the back. Despite having reliable Indian players like Ashutosh Mehta, Keegan Pereira, Prabir Das, Nallappan Mohanraj, Augustin Fernandes, most of them being fullbacks. Anwar Ali's health concerns will also be a question for the fans and critics. So the gaffer will have some issues if foreign recruits Jordi Figueras and Tom Thorpe are injured.
But overall looking at the side, the reigning champions look good and will be up and running to defend their ISL title.
The Gaurs this year have a great blend of Spanish experience along with Goan talent on display. The runners-up of the 2nd edition are coming off from a disastrous last season, but things have changed since then, Zico has been replaced by new coach Sergio Lobera and the Gaurs look a totally different team under the Spaniard.
We Together - FC Goa
The Gaurs have picked some of the exciting Indian talents in form of Pronay Halder, Narayan Das and Brandon Fernandes from the draft. Overseas capture includes the likes of Ferran Corominas, Manuel Lanzarote and Bruno Pinheiro. Goa has retained Kattimani in goal along with Mandar Rao Desai from the previous season.
Manuel Lanzarote already looks like a star signing as the Catalonian has great ability to score goals. The former Zaragoza man has impressed in the Spanish Segunda League last year scoring 11 times in 52 outings, proves that he can be the main man for Goa.
Whereas his compatriot Ferran Corominas also brings similar attributes to the table, the Espanyol graduate has represented Spain at various youth level and has shown his calibre in the pre-season matches. Like the other Spaniards, Manuel Arana is also a solid option in midfield.
Goa's backline will be managed by Pinheiro and Konsham Singh, controlling the centre-backs positions. Whereas Narayan Das will be on the left and Seriton on the right flank in defence. Both of them will be very important while going forward and also while stopping opposition wingers.
FC Goa lacks a quality backup in striker's position. Adrian Colunga is definitely a quality striker but lack of options on the bench may haunt FC Goa later in the tournament. While Corominas has been really good in the pre-season matches but the rest are mostly inexperienced. Players like Manvir and Liston Colaco are highly rated youth prospects but are yet to prove themselves on the bigger stage.
Laxmikant Kattimani was retained in spite of ordinary performances in the last season, so he will definitely be out there to prove himself this time around.
So an overall view of this Goa team looks good, they have good balance and their blend of Spanish and Goan players definitely makes them a team to watch out for!
Published: Fri Nov 17, 2017 06:52 PM IST