The fourth edition of the Indian Super League starts on the 17th and last season’s finalists, Kerala Blasters and ATK, kick things off in Kochi. For the first time ever, the league will be contested over three and a half months with two new entrants, Jamshedpur FC and the reigning Federation Cup champions, Bengaluru FC.
We assess all the teams involved.
Coach: Teddy Sheringham
Goalkeepers: Debjit Majumder, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Kunzang Bhutia
Defenders: Anwar Ali, Ashutosh Mehta, Augustin Fernandes, Jordi Figueras, Keegan Pereira, Nalappan Mohanraj, Prabir Das, Thomas Thorpe
Midfielders: Bipin Paul, Carl Baker, Conor Thomas, Darren Caldeira, Eugenson Lyngdoh, Hitesh Sharma, Ronald Singh, Rupert Nongrum, Shankar Sampingiraj
Forwards: Jayesh Rane, Jose Branco, Njazi Kuqi, Robbie Keane, Robin Singh
Strength: Experience and lots of it. Ashley Westwood, Technical Director, played an instrumental part in the draft and it showed as he picked five players that had previously played under him at Bengaluru FC. While Teddy Sheringham is one of the eight new managers in this edition of the Indian Super League, he will have help from Westwood, who has won two I-League titles. Having senior figures Robbie Keane and Jussi Jaaskelainen in the dressing room will be a bonus.
Weakness: The defence seems to be a bit short in quality and depth. The one name that stands out is ex-Manchester United academy product Tom Thorpe but there’s very little to suggest that this defence could contain strong attacking sides. Keegan Pereira and Anwar Ali are both on the wrong side of 30 while Nallappan Mohanraj hasn’t featured heavily in recent seasons. With the capture of Real Betis and Celta Vigo centre back Jordi, there’s a chance that Sheringham may opt for a 3-man defence with two wing-backs for added protection.
Coach: Albert Roca
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Abhra Mondal
Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Zohmingliana Ralte, Harmanjot Khabra, Collin Abranches, Juanan, John Johnson, Nishu Kumar, Subashish Bose, Joyner Lourenco
Midfielders: Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado, Edu Garcia, Toni Dovale, Lenny Rodrigues, Malsawmzuala, Boithang Haokip, Alwyn George, Robinson Singh, Bidyananda Singh
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, Miku, Braulio Nobrega, Thongkhosiem Haokip
Strength: The JSW-owned team in their first ISL season will bring a winning track record with them. Having won four trophies in four years, other teams would be foolish to underestimate them, especially at the Kanteerava Stadium. The new acquisitions, Erik Partaalu and Miku, in particular, will look to hit the ground running and Albert Roca and gang will be hoping for a first ISL crown.
Weakness: The afore-mentioned fear factor may see teams take a cautious approach while facing Bengaluru FC. In his first season, Roca’s team saw their passing game improve but failed to break down teams when they sat deep and hit BFC on the counter. Roca will surely have to adopt a more pragmatic approach in such situations against teams looking to pinch a point against Bengaluru.
Coach: John Gregory
Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Pawan Kumar, Shahin Lal Meloli
Defenders: Dhanachandra Singh, Fulganco Cardozo, Henrique Fonseca Sereno, Inigo Calderon, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Keenan Almeida, Mailson Alves, Sanjay Balmuchu
Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Bikramjit Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Francisco Fernandes, Germanpreet Singh, Gregory Nelson, Jamie Gavilan, Raphael Augusto, Rene Mihelic, Thoi Singh
Forwards: Baoringdao Bodo, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Jude Nworuh, Mohammed Rafi
Strength: The Marina Machans have an exciting group of young Indian prospects on their roster and John Gregory will look to use them to the fullest extent. The trio of Anirudh Thapa, Boaringdao Bodo and Jerry Lalrinzuala, two of whom have already made their full debuts for the senior national team before turning 20, will be the ones to keep an eye out for. One of India’s best attackers and a Chennaiyin fan favourite, Jeje Lalpekhlua, is expected to lead the line.
Weakness: The goalkeeping department will be an area of concern. Hoshiarpur-born Karanjit Singh will be the number one and although he has made 17 appearances for India, the likes of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Debjit Majumder, Albino Gomes, Laxmikant Kattimani and Amrinder Singh have performed better in recent seasons. Pawan Kumar and Shahinlal Meoli will be his deputies and neither has a single ISL appearance to his name.
Coach: Miguel Angel
Goalkeepers: Albino Gomes, Arnab Das Sharma, Sukhadev Patil
Defenders: Eduardo Moya Cantillo, Gabriel Cichero, Jayananda Singh, Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte, Mohammad Sajid Dhot, Munmun Timothy Lugun, Pratik Chowdhary, Pritam Kotal, Rowilson Rodrigues
Midfielders: David Khamchin Ngaihte, Matías Mirabaje, Paulinho Dias, Seityasen Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Vinit Rai
Forwards: Guyon Fernandez, Jeroen Lumu, Kalu Uche, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Romeo Fernandes
Strength: If Miguel Angel Portugal can get them well-organised, then this should be a difficult defence to get past. The crown jewel in there is undoubtedly, Venezuelan Gabriel Cichero, still an active player for his national team, fresh off the experience of having played the World Cup qualifiers. Right-back Pritam Kotal has been solid for club and country over the past year and the experience of Sena Ralte will come in handy. Albino Gomes, fresh off a title win with Aizawl, and one of the best keepers in the division, will be an able last line of defence.
Weakness: The Dynamos have five attackers on their roster and the attack looks to be heavily dependent on 34-year old Kalu Uche. The ex-Bordeaux and Espanyol forward, who represented Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup and has played with Pune City FC in the ISL, will have an unknown quantity in 31-year old Curacaon forward Guyon Fernandes for company. Speedstar Romeo Fernandes and precocious youngster Lallianzuala Changte have had stop-start seasons for East Bengal and DSK Shivajians respectively.
Coach: Sergio Lobera
Goalkeepers: Bruno Rayan Colaco, Laxmikant Kattimani, Naveen Kumar
Defenders: Amey Ranawade, Bruno Pinheiro, Jovel Martins, Chinglensana Singh, Mohamed Ali, Narayan Das, Sergio Marin, Benny Fernandes
Midfielders: Ahmed Jahouh, Anthony D’Souza, Brandon Fernandes, Eduardro Bedia Pelaez, Mandar Rao Dessai, Manuel Arana Rodriguez, Manuel Lanzarote Mohammad Yasir, Pratesh Shirodkar, Pronay Halder
Forwards: Adrian Colunga Perez, Ferran Corominas, Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh
Strength: The one position that seems to have no competition in the Indian team is that of the deep-lying midfielder or the anchor man. While Rowllin Borges has made that position his own, Pronay Halder remains without a doubt, India’s most influential destroyer. Halder has been ravaged by injuries over the past season but both Sergio Lobera and Stephen Constantine can hope that former Pailan Arrows midfielder can remain fit and shield the defence effectively.
Weakness: It hasn’t been a happy time for Goan football. With Goan clubs pulling out of the I-League, lukewarm audiences for the World Cup and general interest in the sport seemingly on the decline in one of the game’s hotbeds in the country, FC Goa finishing last in ISL 2016 did not help their cause at all. The club has brought in 8 players from the state to try and find a local connect, and must now hope that this move pays off.
Coach: Steve Coppell
Goalkeepers: Md. Rafique Ali Sardar, Sanjiban Ghosh, Subrata Paul
Defenders: Anas Edathodika, Andre Bikey, Bikash Jairu, Jose Luis Espinosa Arroyo, Robin Gurung, Sairuat Kimas, Shouvik Ghosh,Souvik Chakrabati, Yumnam Raju
Midfielders: Emerson Gomes, Mehtab Hossain, Sameehg Doutie, Trindade Goncalves
Forwards: Ashim Biswas, Farukh Choudhary, Izu Azuka, Jerry Mawhmingthanga, Kervens Belfort, Siddharth Singh, Sumeet Passi, Talla Ndiaye
Strength: The management skills of Steve Coppell came in handy for his previous team Kerala Blasters last time around as the Englishman led an unbalanced squad to within a kick of the ISL title, losing on penalties to the eventual champions, ATK. This time as well, the Tatas must hope that Coppell can lead them to a respectable finish in their maiden ISL season.
Weakness: The challenges that come with setting up a new club are well-documented and it will be no different for one of the oldest names in Indian football. Jamshedpur has always been synonymous with the Tata Football Academy but in this case, must step up with their first-ever club in the top division. Home support at the JRD Tata Sports Complex Stadium and building a fan base will be crucial for any hopes of long-term sustainability.
Kerala Blasters FC
Coach: Rene Muelensteen
Goalkeepers: Paul Rachubka, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Sandip Nandy
Defenders: Lalruatthara, Lalthakima, Nemanja Lakic Pesic, Rino Anto, Samuel Shadap, Sandesh Jhingan, Soraisam Singh, Wes Brown
Midfielders: Ajith Sivan, Arata Izumi, CK Vineeth, Courage Pekuson, Jackichand Singh, Loken Moirangthem Meitei, Milan Singh, Siam Hanghal, Prasanth Karuthadathkuni
Forwards: Dimitar Berbatov, Iain Hume, Karan Sawhney, Mark Sifneos
Strength: The Blasters have made several impressive acquisitions for the first team but their best signing could come off the pitch in the form of ex-Shillong Lajong coach Thangboi Singto. In Singto, they have a man with a reputation for producing some of the best youth products of the I-League, some of whom will ply their trade for the Blasters this season. Singto’s Lajong played an eye-catching brand of football last season and Rene Meulensteen will hope that the Manipuri can help replicate this brand for the Blasters.
Weakness: An ageing squad with some of the starters approaching or on the wrong side of 30. Although the league’s schedule is less demanding this time around, it will be interesting to see if Paul Rachubka (36), Wes Brown (38), Arata Izumi (35), Dimitar Berbatov (36), Iain Hume (34), CK Vineeth (29) and Rino Anto (29) can contribute to a high-energy style and cope with the rigours of the five-month league.
Coach: Alexandre Guimares
Goalkeepers: Amrinder Singh, Arindam Bhattacharja, Kunal Sawant
Defenders: Aiborlang Khongjee, Biswajit Saha, Davinder Singh, Gerson Vieira, Lalchhawnkima, Lucian Goian, Marcio Rosario, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Raju Gaikwad
Midfielders: Abhinash Ruidas, Achille Edzimbi, Everton Santos, Leo Costa, Rakesh Oram, Sahil Tavora, Sanju Pradhan, Sehnaj Singh, Thiago Santos, Zakeer Mundampara
Forwards: Balwant Singh, Pranjal Bhumij, Rafa Jorda
Strength: The Islanders have opted for continuity with Alexandre Guimaraes retained from the previous season. They finished top of the table after conceding only 8 goals and Lucian Goian, the best defender in the league last season, will be captain this season along with returning deputy Gerson Vieira. The Costa Rican will be hoping for more of the same from his team.
Weakness: Leo Costa, Sehnaj Singh and Rakesh Oram have been retained from last season, yet it remains to be seen whether this midfield can dictate matches. Journeymen Sahil Tavora, Sanju Pradhan and Zakeer Mundampara have also been drafted in as has been Abinash Ruidas, who fought a long, legal battle with East Bengal for his opportunity. For all of MCFC’s smart acquisitions, the midfield remains a tad underwhelming.
Coach: Juan Carlos Pires
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Chabhal, Ravi Kumar, Rehenesh TP
Defenders: Abdul Hakku Nediyodath, Gursimrat Singh Gill, Jose Goncalves, Mamadu Samba Candé, Martin Diaz, Nirmal Chettri, Reagan Singh, Robert Lalthlamuana
Midfielders: Adilson Goiano, Fanai Lalrempuia, Lalrindika Ralte, Malemngamba Meitei Kshetrimayum, Márcio de Souza Gregório Junior, Rowllin Borges, Sushil Meitei Ahongshangbam, Seiminlen Doungel, Odair Fortes
Forwards: Danilo Lopes Cezario, Halicharan Narzary, Luis Alfonso
Strength: Joao de Deus has two Indian national team players in Halicharan Narzary and Rowllin Borges at his disposal but the X-factor may come from former ATK and East Bengal captain Lalrindika Ralte. The Mizo, who has yet to scale the lofty heights that were expected of him when he started out, has nonetheless been quietly instrumental in ATK’s victory last season and could make a difference for the Highlanders.
Weakness: As one of the two teams to have never made the playoffs, de Deus will be under huge pressure to deliver qualification for the latter stages this season. With new management in place, the team will be hoping to get this monkey off their back this season but the pressure of doing so could get to them.
Pune City FC
Coach: Ranko Popovic
Goalkeepers: Anuj Kumar, Kamaljit Singh, Vishal Kaith
Defenders: Damir Grgic, Diego Carlos Santos Silva, Gurtej Singh, Harpreet Singh, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Pawan Kumar, Rafael Lopez Gomez, Sarthak Golui, Wayne Vaz
Midfielders: Adil Ahmed Khan, Ajay Singh, Baljit Singh Sahni, Isaac Vanmalsawma, Jewel Raja, Jonatan Lucca, Marcos Tebar, Robertino Pugliara, Rohit Kumar
Forwards: Ashique Kuruniyan, Emiliano Alfaro, Kean Lewis, Marcelinho
Strength: Much like Chennaiyin, Pune also have exciting Indian talent at their core. The likes of Kean Lewis, Isaac Vanmalsawma and Vishal Kaith have done well for their respective ISL/I-League teams in the past and can be relied upon to provide the fireworks on the pitch. Isaac, in particular, is one to look out for as his stats in the I-League last season were second only to Mahmoud Al-Amna’s.
Weakness: Pune suffered a major blow in pre-season when Antonio Lopez Habas left his post by mutual consent two months before the opener. Ranko Popovic has been drafted in but must make do with the players that Habas had picked at the draft and through the international transfer market. It remains to be seen whether this disruption will have any effect on Pune’s initial matches.