The return of the Indian Super League was a welcome distraction for Indian football fans after the national team’s disappointing results in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers. A last-gasp draw against Afghanistan and a tame defeat to Oman all but ended India’s chances of making it to the next round. The return of domestic football helped the fans get those results out of the system.
Bengaluru FC picked up from where they had left before the international break by beating rivals Kerala Blasters 1-0 at the Kanteerava stadium. Odisha began proceedings at their adopted home in Pune with a goalless draw against table-toppers ATK.
Chennaiyin posted their first win of the season in the most dramatic fashions, scoring twice in stoppage time, before Jamshedpur stunned FC Goa in Fatorda thanks to a Sergio Castel strike.
Meanwhile, Mumbai City snapped their losing streak with creditable 2-2 draw at NorthEast United while Chennaiyin saw their hopes of claiming a second straight win slip out of their hands after conceding a late equaliser against Odisha to draw 2-2.
Hyderabad FC showed much-needed grit to eke out a draw against champions Bengaluru, before Mumbai and ATK shared spoils in a thrilling stalemate.
Kerala Blasters’ wait for their second home win was extended as FC Goa stole a late point in Kochi before the round ended with NorthEast United preserving their unbeaten run with a draw at Jamshedpur.
The week had no shortage of plots and sub-plots both on and off the pitch as the ISL table got tighter with just two points separating the top five teams.
Heading into another round of competitive action, here are some of the key takeaways from the previous week in the Indian Super League.
Chennaiyin FC have witnessed plenty of drama in their time in the Indian Super League. Their first-ever triumph in 2015 was one of the most dramatic moments in the competition’s history.
Yet, the week that went by could be considered one of the most eventful since that win in Goa four years ago.
Winless after four games and without an ISL goal in months, Chennaiyin were in desperate need of a lift-off. Facing Hyderabad FC, the league’s bottom side at home, there were no excuses.
It took the Super Machans a second-half stoppage-time goal to break the deadlock. But just when they felt they had got their first win, Hyderabad equalised to brutally cut short their joy. However, in another late twist, Chennaiyin scored the winner with virtually the last kick of the game to seal all three points. The delight among the players, fans and coach John Gregory was palpable after the thrilling win.
Their recovery appeared to be in full speed in the next game against Odisha when they led 2-1 with less then ten minutes to go, but a goal from Aridane Santana broke the hearts of their fans.
The draw dampened the revived spirits in the Marina Arena and drew the final nail in the coffin for manager Gregory who was given his marching orders after two and a half years in-charge.
A week that started with a dose of ecstasy ended with disappointment and uncertainty about the future of their coaching staff. Chennaiyin are on a look-out for a new manager but the week would have taken a lot out of them emotionally.
Mumbai City FC make a statement
Like Chennaiyin, Mumbai City came into this post-break spell with no wind in their sails. Having lost their last two games and conceding a total of eight goals, manager Jorge Costa had plenty of work to do facing away games against semi-final contenders NorthEast United and ATK.
However, Mumbai City FC came away with two creditable points in those tough away games to reignite the fighting spirit within the dressing room. Costa’s men were let down by their defence, barring which they could have come away with all six points from these games.
Off the pitch, the mood around the club would have certainly being lifted with City Football Group, the owners of Premier League champions Manchester City, buying a majority stake in the franchise.
Having built a family of successful football clubs across the globe, the investment from the sport-entertainment giants is certain to boost the Mumbai club in the coming years.
Read: Not here to lose money: CFG CEO Soriano says they’ll help ISL to be more sustainable
With a buzz around the place, Costa could use the atmosphere to stitch together a winning run that can pull Mumbai right back into the scheme of things at the top of the table.
The last week in the ISL was the most dramatic this season. A chief reason for that was a handful of late goals that changed the result in the dying moments.
Out of the 16 goals that were scored across games in the ISL, 9 were scored in the last ten minutes. Out of those nine strikes, seven came in second-half stoppage time.
All the nine goals had an impact on the result causing the high drama.
However, most of these goals have been against the run of play and were largely contributed by lapses in concentration and big defensive mistakes rather than teams spotting a gap and pushing through it.
Just seven points separate the bottom team from the league leaders. Even after six matches no team has managed to pull away considerably, thus giving plenty of hope to teams languishing at the bottom of the table.
Last week was a missed opportunity for teams at both ends of the table. The teams at the top failed to put daylight between themselves and the chasing pack while those at the bottom failed to take advantage of their slip-ups.
ISL saw seven draws, six of those in consecutive games in the last ten days. More than half of the stalemates this season have come in the period after the international break.
This is also the first time ever in the ISL that six straight games have ended in a draw. Surely, it’s time someone takes up the mantle and decides games.
Where are the goals, Bengaluru?
Defending champions seemed to have left their habit of drawing games behind them when they beat Kerala Blasters to secure their second straight victory in the ISL after three draws to start the season.
However, Bengaluru were forced to share the spoils on fourth occasion this season when their former striker Robin Singh scored a stoppage-time equaliser for ten-man Hyderabad FC.
The visitors bossed the game producing 13 shots with six of those on target, but only managed to score one goal that came from a big defensive error from the home side in the second minute of the game.
Despite enjoying a numerical advantage for over half an hour, the champions failed to close the game. They missed a host of chances in the game allowing Hyderabad to have a crack at them late on.
However, this has been a pattern for Bengaluru throughout the season. They have created plenty of chances but have only six goals to show for it. Only Hyderabad, Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin have scored fewer goals than Bengaluru this season.
Surprisingly, the champions have the highest xG (expected goals) in the division. According to the projection by Grey Analytics, based on the chances created, Bengaluru should have scored over 11 goals this season.
The problem has been the struggles of Manuel Onwu to get going in Indian football and Raphael Augusto’s wastefulness in front of the goal. Since moving to centre-forward position, Sunil Chhetri has netted three times but has lacked support.
Augusto, who has been charged with making up for the loss of goals due to Miku’s departure, has an xG of 1.943 this season but has failed to score a single goal. The absence of the final foreign player is also hurting Bengaluru and it is something they may choose to fix in the upcoming window.
While Bengaluru’s lack of goals hasn’t allowed them to take control at the top of the table, their ability to create chances would ease a lot of manager Carles Cuadrat’s concerns. The numbers suggest it’s a matter of when rather than if before Bengaluru FC starts finding the net regularly again.