The Indian Super League is well and truly into its business end with the battles for the top spot and semi-final positions getting tighter by the day.
Mathematically, nine teams still have a chance of making the top four this season. Although the teams at the lower end of the table would find few backers at this moment, football’s rich history of glorious comebacks is sure to fuel their ambitions.
With the ISL league stage winners likely to earn a direct entry into the AFC Champions League group stages, the top spot in the table has assumed significance like never before.
Bengaluru FC, table toppers in the last two editions kept their hopes of a three-peat alive with a smashing 3-0 win over an in-form Odisha FC side.
Semi-final hopefuls Mumbai City FC failed to take full advantage of Odisha’s slip-up after only managing a 1-1 draw away to bottom side Hyderabad FC. FC Goa did their bit to continue their push for the summit with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Kerala Blasters while ATK left it late to beat NorthEast United and surge to the top of the pile at the end of the 14th round of matches.
As we head into the next round of games, here are some key takeaways from the last week in ISL.
Fifty up for India
Balwant Singh’s stoppage-time winner for ATK against NorthEast United was the 50th goal scored by an Indian so far this season. It appears to be a milestone for Indian scorers but it is anything but.
It has taken the Indians 68 matches to reach this tally. There have been 35 different Indian scorers this season with Sunil Chhetri leading the way with 9 goals that constitute 18% of the goals scored by the local players.
In comparison, the top six foreign goal scorers in the ISL this season, also have 50 goals among themselves.
Indians have never been prolific scorers in the ISL but their goals per game ratio this season has dropped noticeably from the last campaign. In 2018-19, Indian scorers netted 0.91 goals per game while the ratio is down to 0.73 goals per game this season. This is the lowest figure for Indian scorers since the ISL expanded to ten teams.
So, the fifty up for India but it has been a laborious half-century, to say the least. Will they change gears from this point on? Only time will tell.
Kings of late goals show up again
Late drama has been a common theme in this ISL season. The story was no different in the week gone by as five out of sixteen goals scored came in the last ten minutes of matches.
ATK, FC Goa and Hyderabad FC left it late to get their jobs done in the last round of matches. It wasn’t the last time these teams have salvaged results late in the game and it may not be the last time.
If you make a table for points earned in the final ten minutes of matches, ATK, Goa, and Hyderabad would be right up there. Goa and Hyderabad have earned five points each thanks to goals in the dying minutes while ATK have earned four points. All three teams had to rely on this ability of theirs to turn a draw into a win or a defeat into a draw.
Jamshedpur FC, Mumbai City FC, and NorthEast United are the other teams who have had the habit of winning points late on in games.
Bengaluru FC, Kerala Blasters, Odisha, and Chennaiyin have been particularly poor at netting late goals that change the result of matches in their favour.
Here is the table for points earned by teams thanks to goals scored in the final ten minutes.
Points earned through goals in last ten mins
|Mumbai City FC||5|
The big three – in a league of their own
ATK, FC Goa and Bengaluru FC all posted victories in the previous week to consolidate their position at the top of the table. Although none of the teams have sealed a place in the semi-finals, it looks increasingly unlikely that the semi-final line-up will be devoid of any of these teams.
ATK and FC Goa who are locked on 27 points at the top of the table are just two points ahead of Bengaluru FC in third place. The rest of the chasing pack sits further four points adrift led by Odisha FC in the fourth spot.
The fight for the top spot seems set to go right down to the wire. ATK have the upper hand in this race thanks to their superior head-to-head record over FC Goa that sees them edge them to the first position as things stand. Goa also have an inferior head-to-head record against Bengaluru FC but are currently enjoying a two-point lead over the champions.
ATK, who beat Bengaluru FC 1-0 in Kolkata, can earn an edge over Carles Cuadrat’s men if they avoid defeat in the reverse fixture in Bengaluru on February 22.
However, the Kolkatans would be aiming to keep that out of the equation by maintaining their two-point advantage over Bengaluru FC.
Déjà vu for Chennaiyin?
Been there, done that. That’s what Chennaiyin fans would be believing as we head into the final phase of the campaign. After a disastrous start, things have improved under new coach Owen Coyle for Chennaiyin, who now look good to claim the fourth and final semi-final spot.
Currently, on a three-match winning run, Chennaiyin can displace fourth-placed Odisha FC if they win their game over the Bhubaneswar outfit. It would be a remarkable recovery if Chennaiyin manage to pip Odisha and Mumbai City to the top four, but it wouldn’t be a first for the franchise.
The Super Machans would already be feeling a sense of déjà vu given the manner this campaign is panning out. In 2015, during the second ISL season, Chennaiyin managed to reach the semi-finals after a similar run of bad results to start the season. Coached by Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin had ten points after as many games. However, a run of four straight wins saw them finish third and make the play-offs. They maintained the form in the knockout and beat FC Goa in their own backyard to lift their maiden title.
Considering their current form, few would put it past the south Indian side to at least reach the semi-finals.
If you look at the numbers, this resurgence has been long-time coming from Chennaiyin who are the league’s most creative team with an average of 14.2 chances created per game this season. They also have the highest average chance quality in the league and still appear to be underperforming if the expected goals numbers are anything to go by.
Chennaiyin average 1.3 goals per game but have an expected goal ratio of 1.9 goals per game. They have had problems at the other end conceding chances to the opposition earlier in the campaign but seemed to have improved under Coyle on that front. Only FC Goa, Bengaluru FC, and Kerala Blasters have conceded fewer chances per game to opponents than Chennaiyin.
The Super Machans still have a lot of work to do before they can repeat the heroics of 2015, but their resurgence should be enough to get their fans dreaming again.
(Stats courtesy: greyareaananalytics.com)