The fifth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) has entered its first international break.
After nine matches, five teams are on four points each at the top of the table, with FC Goa leading the pack due to a higher tally of goals scored. All teams except Delhi Dynamos and FC Pune City have played two matches. Chennaiyin and ATK are the only teams yet open their account.
The ISL will return on October 17 but until then, it is a period for the players and coaches who are not involved with their national teams to take a breather and analyze the key areas for improvement. Let’s take a look at what the 10 ISL clubs will wish for when the league resumes after the break:
ATK – Team Chemistry
Under Steve Coppell, ATK have looked lethargic and disorganized. After roping in proven campaigners like John Johnson, Gerson, Manuel Lanzarote and Kalu Uche, a revamped ATK has struggled to fit everyone into the team and get going.
The English coach admittedly had little say in the player recruitment and with his defence-first approach, the attack-minded players look out of place in the team.
Bengaluru FC – A fully fit Dimas Delgado
Ever since the season started for Bengaluru FC with the AFC Cup fixtures against Altyn Asyr, Dimas Delgado’s absence has been felt. The Spanish midfielder was instrumental in pulling the strings and exerting dominance in the middle of the pitch under Albert Roca last season.
Bengaluru’s style of play badly needs a midfield controller like Delgado. He returned to the pitch in the second-half against Jamshedpur after a long-term injury layoff. But Cuadrat and co. will be hoping to see a fully fit Dimas Delgado raring to go when the league resumes. In his absence, Bengaluru FC never really controlled the games, especially the two opening ISL matches at home.
Chennaiyin FC – Goals and a better midfield
A strong midfield was a vital component of Chennaiyin’s success last season. The likes of Dhanpal Ganesh, Bikramjit Singh, Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet Singh did a phenomenal job as the team journeyed to the title but their campaign has begun on a sour note. They are yet to earn a point after two defeats in the first two games and the midfield has been awful to say the least.
With Dhanpal out injured for the first half of the season, both Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet Singh will be expected to step up in the centre of the park after back-to-back dire displays. Adding insult to injury, Jeje Lalpekhlua looked isolated and without service to get going in front of the goal.
Delhi Dynamos – A cure for profligacy
The Lions have played just one game (1-1 vs Pune City) but there are no excuses for dropping two points despite creating plenty of chances to put the game to bed. A late equaliser allowed FC Pune City to earn a point that did not look possible for most of the game.
The Dynamos cannot afford to waste chances. Their only goal in the game came from a speculative long-range effort by Rana Gharami that swung in the air and landed in the net to turn out to be an absolute belter.
FC Goa – Clean Sheets
Sergio Lobera’s side kept just two clean sheets in 20 matches last season. While their strategy has been to outscore the opposition, defending is an important part of any team’s chase for the title. The Gaurs allowed NorthEast United to come back and equalise after having taking the lead twice. They also allowed Eli Sabia to score a late header in their 3-1 win over Chennaiyin FC.
Lobera chose to start both their games with 18-year-old Mohammad Nawaz who had his moments under the bar but is still some way off from being a convincing presence under the bar. FC Goa have stuck to their attacking football under Lobera but a strong defence could be the difference between a semi-final exit and a title win.
FC Pune City – Return of Marcelinho and midfield dynamics
FC Pune City’s talisman Marcelinho was suspended for their season opener against Delhi Dynamos for the red card he picked up in their Super Cup exit against Shillong Lajong. Pune City struggled to get on the front foot for the majority of the game and lacked a focal point in attack. The Brazilian’s return to the starting lineup will be a big boost to the team and will provide much-needed flair in attack.
Jonathan Vila, Marko Stankovic and Adil Khan have failed to boss the midfield so far and a better dynamics amongst the trio will be expected after the break.
Jamshedpur FC – Better support for Tiri
Jamshedpur FC skipper Tiri has been a one-man-army at the back for Cesar Ferrando’s side in the first two games. Against Bengaluru FC, the Spanish defender put in vital blocks and last-ditch tackles to keep the Men of Steel in the game. Raju Gaikwad, in particular, has been sub-par.
Fellow defenders in the side to step up their game to support the skipper. Defending requires teamwork and coordination which Cesar Ferrando will demand from his side once the league season resumes.
Kerala Blasters – Improvement at home
The last time Kerala Blasters reached the finals, they had won six and lost just one match in Kochi. Last season, Blasters recorded a poor home run (a mere two wins in nine games) and endured a frustrating campaign.
And after a 2-0 win against ATK in the season opener, Blasters fell to a last-minute stunner by Mumbai City’s Pranjal Bhumij and dropped two points at home. Kerala Blasters have recently struggled to win matches in front of their home crowd. For a team vying for the title, this is unacceptable and needs to change.
Mumbai City – Foreign players to step up
The foreign contingent of Mumbai City are yet to make an impact in ISL after the first two rounds. The likes of Rafael Bastos and Moudou Sougou have completely gone off the radar despite playing both their first two matches. Matias Mirabaje and Paulo Machado are yet to exert any influence in the Islanders’ proceedings on the pitch.
Given their strength on paper, Jorge Costa will demand improvement from these players after the break.
NorthEast United – Better output from wide players
The Highlanders will wish for a better output from wide areas so as to unlock the goalscorer in Bartholomew Ogbeche. The former PSG man has struggled for service from both the centre and wide areas of the field but the immediate concern will be the displays of wingers Redeem Tlang and Nikhil Kadam.
They will also need better support from their full-backs, namely Keegan Pereira, Robert Lalthlamuana and Reagan Singh. Much will be expected from them if the Highlanders are to deliver upon the early promise offered.