The Indian Super League returns, in front fans for the first time in two years, with Kerala Blasters FC taking on East Bengal FC in the first match of the 2022-23 season on Friday in Kochi.
Ahead of the new season, here’s all you need to know about the ninth edition of the ISL.
There’s a new post-season format with two additional teams in the play-offs this season. While the top two teams directly qualify for the semifinals, teams finishing between third and sixth will play a single-leg playoff to determine the other two semifinalists.
There is still no relegation in the league this season but according to the roadmap drawn earlier, promotion from the I-League is supposed to start from next season.
In another tweak, each matchweek is scheduled between Thursday and Sunday.
New ISL Playoff Format:
Eliminator 1: 3rd placed team vs 6th placed team
Eliminator 2: 4th placed team vs 5th placed team
Semi-Final 1 1st Leg: 1st placed team vs (Winner – Eliminator 2)
Semi-Final 2 1st Leg: 2nd placed team vs (Winner – Eliminator 1)
Semi-Final 1 2nd Leg: (Winner – Eliminator 2) vs 1st placed team
Semi-Final 2 2nd Leg: (Winner – Eliminator 1) vs 2nd placed team
Final: (Winner Semi-Final 1) vs (Winner Semi-Final 2)
There are seven new(-ish) coaches in the league this year with former India coach Stephen Constantine back in the country, this time helming East Bengal. Joseph Gombau also returns for a third stint with Odisha having coached them through their transition from Delhi Dynamos between 2018 and 2020.
League winners Jamshedpur have seen Owen Coyle leave for Scotland and have roped in former England men’s youth team coach Aidy Boothroyd. Former Leeds United manager Simon Grayson has been tasked with bringing Bengaluru FC back into title contention and the Englishman has gotten off to a good start winning the Durand Cup for the first time in the club’s history.
Thomas Brdaric and Marco Balbul will take charge of Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United FC while former FC Goa player Carlos Pena returns as manager.
Indian football: Sanjeev Stalin’s chance to shine as his ISL dream brings him to Mumbai City FC
After two seasons behind closed doors due to the pandemic in a bubble, the return of fans to the stadiums and teams playing home and away are, perhaps, the two biggest changes to the ISL this season.
For the first time in the ISL, the Kolkata derbies between ATK Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will be played at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata. Just to make the clash even more intense, the second derby is scheduled to be played on the second-last match day of the league stage with possible play-off spots on the line.
Defending champions Hyderabad FC have managed to hold on to manager Manolo Marquez, the influential Bart Ogbeche and impressive young Indian player Akash Mishra. However, they have seen Ashish Rai and Aniket Jadhav being poached by the two Kolkata clubs and will need to rely on Marquez’s ability to bleed in young Indians to mount a successful title defence.
After years of witnessing mediocrity, Kerala Blasters FC fans were finally able to see their team once again fight for the title last season. One could say Blasters fans have fallen in love with coach Ivan Vukomanović and his style of play which saw the team put up a winning season only for the second time in its history and also reach the final for the first time in five seasons where they finished runners-up.
It is no wonder that the Blasters got Vukomanović and midfield magician Adrian Luna to sign long-term contracts. The Serb, however, will be without Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Alvaro Vazquez, who between them, scored 16 of the 37 goals Kerala scored last season. There will be pressure on Greek forwards Apostolos Giannou and Dimitrios Diamantakos to hit the ground running especially since the Blasters will play fellow title contenders ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC in two possible season-defining matches within the first four weeks.
Mumbai City pulled off arguably the biggest signing of the season by snapping up last season’s player of the league Greg Stewart from Jamshedpur. The Scotsman has got off to a very good start in the light blue of Mumbai racking up six goals and four assists in the Durand Cup.
Apart from Stewart, Mumbai also raided Blasters and Goa to sign Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Alberto Noguera respectively while also bolstering their defence by bringing in the experienced Rostyn Griffiths from fellow City Football Group club, Melbourne City FC. Lallianzuala Chhangte has begun the season well finishing as the top-scorer in the Durand Cup while Apuia Ralte is back after a two-week stint at Belgian club Lommel S.K.
Indian football: Composed Lallianzuala Chhangte is adding end product to his game at Mumbai City
Three-time champions ATK Mohun Bagan moved on Roy Krishna and David Williams in the off season with Liston Colaco and new signing Ashique Kuruniyan expected to take over up top. The duo struggled in the Durand Cup and it is yet to be seen how Dimitri Petratos copes in attack. The Kolkata side have signed Florentin Pogba, Brendan Hamill and Ashish Rai to strengthen their defence.
ATK Mohun Bagan have a decent squad on paper and a good coach in Juan Ferrando who powered them into the playoffs after replacing Antonio Habas six matches into last season.
And finally, under Simon Grayson, Bengaluru FC look primed to get back into title contention after two mediocre seasons. Sunil Chhetri continues to be the Blues’ talisman and in Roy Krishna, he finally seems to have an able partner in attack to share the load. The Durand Cup also saw Sivasakthi Narayanan to force himself into the starting XI and the youngster should have a breakthrough season. Sandesh Jhingan and Prabir Das are good additions in defence.
Also in the running
Though they have seen their best player lured away over the seasons, FC Goa have been one of the most consistent teams in the ISL, reaching the playoffs six out of eight times. Edu Bedia remains the heart of the team and in Alvaro Vazquez, Carlos Pena’s side has a forward who can propel them into playoff contention.
Jamshedpur FC lost their manager and best player in the off season. New manager Aidy Boothroyd has his task cut out in replacing Greg Stewart in attack. Daniel Chima Chukwu, who joined midway through last season pumping in seven goals in nine appearances, is expected to be the focal point of attack. A solid defence holds Jamshedpur in good stead but a lack of signings may just end up hurting the league shield holders.
In Stephen Constantine, East Bengal FC have a manager who can grind out results. The Kolkata Giants have signed foreign players with ISL experience in Ivan Gonzalez, Cleiton Silva and Alex Lima. Constantine’s experience working with Indian players could come in handy while working with the likes of Sauvik Chakrabarti, VP Suhair, Aniket Jadhav and Jerry Lalrinzuala.
NorthEast United FC look destined to fight to stay off the bottom of the table. The Highlanders had been lethargic in the off season with the Fifa ban on India almost ensuring the 2020-21 semifinalists began their season without any foreign players.
Josep Gombau’s second stint with Odisha FC started well in the Durand Cup with the Spaniard showing signs that he has found a fix for the team’s defence which leaked 43 goals last season. The Bhubaneswar side has signed Indian goalkeeper Amrinder Singh and has also brought back defender Carlos Delgado to steady the defence.
Chennaiyin FC have overhauled their side after two lacklustre seasons making a whopping 18 new signings along with appointing German Thomas Brdaric as coach. The two-time champions did manage to retain club captain Anirudh Thapa but have finally let go of the influential Rafael Crivellaro after seeing him struggle with injuries.
Full squad lists available here.
Full fixture list available here.