There were no surprises with the big guns going about their business as week three of the 2019-’20 Indian Super League came to a close on Sunday.
The action now switches to the Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifiers where India face crucial away ties against Afghanistan and Oman, but for ISL clubs it is a crucial two-week break with injuries taking a toll on many players in the initial phase of the league.
ATK ascended to the top of the league with a clinical victory over Antonio Iriondo’s Jamshedpur FC. Defending champions Bengaluru FC also got back to winning ways after drubbing Chennaiyin FC, while NorthEast United dug deep to eke out an away win against newcomers Hyderabad FC.
However, the best game of the week was witnessed at the Mumbai Football Arena as FC Goa came out on top against Mumbai City in a six-goal thriller, four goals which came in the second half.
Elsewhere, Kerala Blasters’ poor run continued with a drab draw against Odisha FC in Kochi, a contest that was marred by injuries and poor refereeing decisions.
Eight of the 14 goals scored during the week came from the set-pieces while only four teams managed to register a clean sheet.
With the first international break of the season underway, here are some key takeaways from the third week:
ATK proving to be early title contenders
After opening their campaign with a 1-2 away defeat against Kerala Blasters, ATK are on a dream run. Coach Antonio Habas has taken from where he left off, guiding the club to the summit after three back-to-back wins.
Having been the busiest team during the summer transfer window, ATK have issued an early statement to the rest of the teams with their recent performances.
Like in their previous game against Chennaiyin, they were tested again on many occasions by Jamshedpur but secured all three points courtesy of being clinical: scoring three goals from three shots on target, two of which came from penalties.
While their attack has revolved around Australian duoof David Williams and Roy Krishna in a 3-4-1-2 system, the presence of Carl McHugh has freed Jayesh Rane and Javier Hernandez to initiate attacks. Prabir Das has thrived as wing-back alongside Michael Soosairaj, who has looked sharp on the other flank despite a more withdrawn role.
No team other than Bengaluru FC or FC Goa have been consistent since the last two seasons and ATK could threaten their hegemony going by their early form.
Kerala Blasters’ injury crisis deepens
Things are only getting worse for Kerala Blasters. In four games so far, Eelco Schattorie has not managed to inspire a turnaround after revamping the squad during the summer.
The Manjapadda supporters have already started questioning Schattorie’s methods after his early preference to not regularly start local playmaker Sahal Abdul Samad. Now, the Dutchman’s injury list is also only growing longer.
Against Odisha FC, center-back Jairo Rodrigues pulled up his hamstring while attempting a pass. Midfielder Raphael Messi Bouli also suffered a concussion after clashing heads with opposition player Aridane Santana, both who were taken to a hospital after the match.
Injuries have been a constant headache for the former NorthEast United coach since the pre-season and the recent ones come as an added blow with first-team regulars Sandesh Jhinghan, Mario Arques, Gianni Zuiverloon already on the sidelines.
Bengaluru FC back in the groove
After three successive draws on the road, Bengaluru shook off their early-season slump with a resounding win against two-time winners Chennaiyin.
Carles Cuadrat, made a few tweaks to his system, restoring Ashique Kuruniyan in his preferred position as winger while dropping Manuel Onwu and introducing Erik Paartalu in midfield.
John Gregory’s side looked all at sea as Bengaluru FC fired on all cylinders with Raphael Augusto running the show in midfield against his former club. In the end, it was another comfortable victory at home. They Blues have established the Sree Kanteerava Stadium as their fortress with their last defeat at the venue being the 2017-’18 ISL final.
Goa’s belief keeps them alive
FC Goa battled back for the third game in a row as they climbed second in the table to maintain their unbeaten run, alongside NorthEast United and Bengaluru.
They scored at the death in their previous two games to churn out draws and against an injury-hit Mumbai City side, their determination stood out. After blowing away a two-goal lead in quick succession during the second half against the Islanders, they rallied around to pick up their second win of the season.
“What important is the belief till the end, always. I am happy in the last two matches to get one point because we believed in the end and it is good for us to get a result in Mumbai,” Goa manager Sergio Lobera said after the match.
The Super Subs
As Thongkhosiem Haokip completed Bengaluru’s rout against Chennaiyin, out-muscling defender Eli Sabia and poking the ball past goalkeeper Vishal Kaith’s legs for the winning goal, he capped off a successful week for the players who came off the bench.
Early on during the week, Maximiliano Barreto’s late penalty earned three points for the Highlanders despite Asamoah Gyan picking up an injury in Hyderabad.
Edu Bedia supplied an assist for FC Goa after replacing the injured Hugo Boumous during their demolition of Mumbai.
Meanwhile, Edu Garcia, who has failed to nick down a spot in ATK’s starting eleven, scored his third goal of the campaign as a substitute to end Jamshedpur’s unbeaten run.