The Indian Super League’s eighth match week was its penultimate before the tournament breaks for the AFC Asian Cup, India a part of the 24 competing nations in the United Arab Emirates.
While Goa continued their extended break of 12 days, the rest of the top four were in action as Bengaluru, Mumbai City and NorthEast United each played two games. Bengaluru maintained their unbeaten streak but had to sweat for it, coming within three minutes of losing it against NorthEast and then being troubled by Mumbai City, who only had 10 men for the last 40 minutes of the game.
Kerala Blasters witnessed another bleak week in terms of attendances and results, now going 10 games without a win, the longest streak in ISL history along with the Delhi Dynamos. But first, about the champions..
Bengaluru’s invincibility cloak slips, just a little
18 league games without a loss, the lowest number of goals conceded in the league, a three-point lead in the league with a game in hand, life’s rosy if you’re a Bengaluru FC fan.
Underneath the results though lie a series of near escapades and this week they had two. NorthEast United and Eelco Schattorie took the lead, not giving it up till Chencho Gyeltshen popped up with an overhead kick in stoppage time to salvage a draw.
Mumbai City then showed up at the Kanteerava and gave as good as they got, equalising seven minutes after they fell behind to an Udanta Singh header. The Islanders weren’t second best and had plenty of chances to go ahead but could not capitalise on them. This isn’t new at the ‘Fortress’, Delhi Dynamos had a slew of opportunities before losing to a late winner from Udanta.
The Blues really have missed their best player Miku and his ability to keep the ball in the final third. The Venezuelan can thump them in, but he brings so much more to this Bengaluru team. They have meandered but this would have been the case for any top ISL team, be it Goa without Coro or NorthEast without Ogbeche.
Mumbai City have come a long way since Goa loss
In their fourth match, Goa handed Mumbai City a 5-0 thrashing at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa. That seems a lifetime ago for Jorge Costa’s men as they’ve powered themselves to second spot in the ISL table, only three points behind BFC.
In seven games since that harrowing defeat at the hands of Sergio Lobera’s team, Mumbai City have kept five clean sheets, conceding only three and bagging 17 points, more than any other team in that period.
On Sunday, they showed exactly why they were play-off material against a team widely tipped by many to become champions this season. Mumbai City took the game to Bengaluru, and didn’t drop off despite being reduced to 10 men.
Finds like Joyner Lourenco and Raynier Fernandes have been supplemented by the power and precision of Modou Sougou and Arnold Issoko. The two combined again to give the Blues’ backline a torrid time despite Sougou straying offside one too many a time. Remember, the magic mark for the play-offs is 30 and Mumbai have 21 on the board with seven games left.
Kerala Blasters are in a mess
The Blasters thought they had seen off the worst after the Rene Meulensteen-Sandesh Jhingan and the David James-Dimitar Berbatov sagas. Meulensteen and Berbatov have left but the team’s fortunes have not improved on the field.
Add to that a fan boycott and the two worst attended home games in the club’s history and the team management are in a real pickle. The 0-1 loss to Pune City surely has to be the nadir in this wretched run.
Pune had never won a game in Kochi and Pradyum Reddy’s men bagged only their second win of the season. The Stallions had not kept a clean sheet all season and they did so against the Blasters.
David James’ side look blunt in attack and the re-jigging of the defence hasn’t helped, with fourth place nine points away. The fans haven’t rallied to their team’s cause, producing a lukewarm response and that play-off spot seems farther away than ever. The two-time ISL runners-up are tottering and the downward spiral hasn’t stopped.