The Indian Super League season is fast approaching its business end. The teams at the lower end of the table are scrapping for their lives while the leading pack is chasing the top spot in the table that would gain them an entry into next season’s AFC Champions League qualifiers.

FC Goa lead the table after twelve round of games in the ISL after bouncing back from the defeat against Bengaluru FC with a 2-0 win over NorthEast United at home. The defending champions Bengaluru kept pace at the top with fairly comfortable 2-0 success over Jamshedpur FC in Bengaluru.

Chennaiyin kept their faint hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals alive with a impressive 3-1 victory away to Hyderabad FC before Odisha FC entered the top-four for the first time this season with a 2-0 triumph over Mumbai City FC.

The week ended with a shock result as Kerala Blasters upstaged ATK 1-0 at the Salt Lake stadium to reignite their chances of reaching the knockout stages. After an eventful week on and off the pitch, here are the key takeaways from the action in the last round.

FC Goa’s century

FC Goa became the first team in ISL history to play 100 matches when they faced NorthEast United at Fatorda on Wednesday. The Gaurs had to toil hard on the evening before they were able to eke out a victory to mark the milestone.

In the five seasons of the ISL, FC Goa have been one of the most consistent units reaching the semi-finals on four occasions and the final twice. The title may have eluded FC Goa on both occasions but the franchise has recorded the most wins and scored most goals in ISL history.

ISL records for all teams

Position Team Matches Played Matches Won Win% Goals Scored Clean Sheets
1 FC Goa 100 45 45 179 28
2 ATK 98 35 35.71 120 29
3 Chennaiyin 97 35 36.08 140 25
4 Kerala Blasters 96 28 29.16 105 26
5 Mumbai City FC 94 35 37.23 115 32
6 NorthEast United 90 27 30 88 26
7 Delhi Dynamos 82 25 30.38 114 17
8 FC Pune City 80 27 33.75 97 19
9 Bengaluru FC 54 32 59.25 89 22
10 Jamshedpur FC 47 16 34.04 58 14
11 Odisha FC 12 5 41.66 17 4
12 Hyderabad FC 12 1 8.33 12 0
Leading figures in each field are marked in bold

Once again, FC Goa look good to reach the semi-finals and are favourites to land their first continental spot. They have a two-point lead at the top of the table with six games to play.

Mixing flair with grit, Sergio Lobera’s men have underlined their credentials to finally conquer the crown on several occasions this season and they’ll hope that this season will be remembered for a lot more than these milestones.

Change of guard in Hyderabad

Hyderabad FC’s forgettable season took a turn for the worse when fellow strugglers Chennaiyin FC took them apart during a 3-1 home defeat on Friday. The defeat left them rooted at the foot of the table with just five points in their kitty after 12 matches.

With just one win all season, the Hyderabad management decided to bring an end to Phil Brown’s tenure as head coach as he was given his marching orders.

The move hardly raised any eyebrows owing to the team’s poor form under the Englishman but his replacement certainly caused a stir among Indian football faithful.

Hyderabad FC appointed former Bengaluru FC boss Albert Roca as their new manager till the end of 2021-22 season. The Spaniard had a successful stint in Bengaluru guiding the club to the historic AFC Cup final in 2016 before helping the team reach the final in their inaugural ISL campaign.

Roca, who was the assistant to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona, will be expected to revive the fortunes of the new franchise given his track record. Even though his efforts are unlikely to yield them any kind of success this season, Roca could make them a force in the league in the seasons to come.

The race is on

In terms of the race of the semi-final spots, the last week could prove to be a defining one. Odisha FC’s 2-0 win over Mumbai City helped them leapfrog their opponents into the fourth spot.

Kerala Blasters defeated third-placed ATK to make them look nervously over their shoulders. Chennaiyin FC too showed signs of life with a fine victory. With Jamshedpur and NorthEast United playing fewer games than the others, they remain in what is likely to be a close race for the final semi-final spot.

Mumbai City FC who looked favourites to nail that spot down suffered back-to-back defeats and now find themselves out of the qualification spots. With such a low margin for errors, expect a few more twists and turns in this race for the semi-final places come the end of the season.

At the top, FC Goa, Bengaluru FC and ATK are also locked in a close battle to bag the top spot in the league that will ensure continental football next season.

Thus, the ongoing ISL season is showing the potential of being the tightest one so far. Fasten your seatbelts, the race is well and truly on.

ATK and the Kerala bogey

Kolkata and Kerala have had always had a footballing rivalry that has recently extended to the ISL with ATK and Kerala Blasters being involved in some fierce contests over the six seasons.

On Sunday, Kerala Blasters piled misery on their opponents ATK beating them 1-0 in their own backyard to prevent them from going to the top of the ISL charts.

A disciplined tactical performance from Eelco Schattorie’s men helped the Blasters stretch their recent hoodoo over ATK to six games, making the south Indian outfit a bit of a bogey team for the Kolkatans.

Although ATK have an overall superior head-to-head record over Kerala Blasters winning four matches to Kerala’s three, the Kolkata side have failed to beat the Blasters in 90 minutes in their last ten matches.

Their last win over the Blasters in regulation time came way back in the final of the first edition when their triumphed 1-0 in Mumbai. Since then ATK have beaten Kerala Blasters just once in ten matches with the victory coming in another final two years later when ATK won on penalties in Kochi.

With Kerala completing a double over ATK this season, the Kolkata outfit will have to wait for another season to break their sticky streak against the Blasters unless Schattorie’s men make a miraculous recovery to qualify for the semi-finals and face ATK in the next stage.