ATK 0 – Kerala Blasters 2
1. Coppell Has To Figure Out His Best Eleven
Steve Coppell was keen to emphasize before the season began that he could not produce attractive football at his Kerala and Jamshedpur sides because of the talent at his disposal. He can have no complaints about his current team. ATK have pulled out all stops to assemble a most impressive squad on paper. In a strong statement of intent, they have bought two of the best centre-backs in the league and four of the top ten scorers from the previous season. That strength has to translate into performances in the field however, and ATK’s disjointed performance against Kerala at home in the opener raised eyebrows. It is fair to say that Coppell does not have too long to get the balance of his team right.
2. Have Kerala Found A Couple Of Goal Scorers?
The Blasters had only won once against ATK in 10 matches since the ISL began in 2014. Going into this encounter, not too many people were optimistic of a good result. The first half performance at the Salt Lake stadium was nothing to write home about. The introduction of Courage Pekuson for Abdul Samad at halftime had the desired effect and there was more intent to Kerala’s buildup play after the break. A lack of goals has been the Blasters’ Achilles heel in previous seasons but both players tasked with that responsibility this season delivered. The jury is still out on Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic but they have started well.
Bengaluru FC 1 – Chennaiyin FC 0
3. This Victory Must Have Tasted Sweet
In the buildup to this game, everyone associated with BFC were at pains to explain that this was just another match. Everyone, except the fans. With the pain from the loss in last season’s final at the Kanteerava still fresh in their minds, they had been looking forward to this fixture all pre-season. For a long spell in the first half, it looked like their hopes would be dashed. It was Chennaiyin, not Bengaluru, who came flying out of the blocks and but for some poor finishing, should have put the game to bed quite early. Miku’s opportunistic strike came very much against the run of play, with Rahul Bheke having a nightmare outing at right back. BFC improved after the break and held on for the win. Carles Cuadrat’s men have a lot of work to do yet, but as much as they deny it, the players would have enjoyed this one.
4. Silver Lining In Defeat
Chennaiyin might have lost the first southern derby of the season, but this was a performance that suggested that the defending champions are not willing to rest on their laurels. For large portions of the game, they looked the better side and in an unusual development, hogged the majority of possession. Eli Sabia filled the hole left by the departure of Henrique Sereno comfortably, defusing worries about the backline’s ability to cope. Gregory Nelson and Jerry Lalrinzuala ran rings around the right side of Bengaluru’s defence in the first half, and Raphael Augusto dictated proceedings throughout. The manager has freshened up his support staff and Chennaiyin looks like they have added a few strings to their bow this season.
NorthEast United 2 – FC Goa 2
5. The Highlanders Punch Above Their Weight
I have tipped the highlanders to be wooden spooners for a second consecutive year, but for a large portion of their match against Goa at home, they looked a better side than I had given them credit for. They took an early lead through the outstanding player of the game in newcomer, Federico Gallego, and threatened the Goa defence line constantly. They also won more tackles and duels than their more favoured opponents, showing fight that was sorely lacking last season. In Bartholomew Ogbeche, they have a centre forward who will occupy defences, and if NorthEast United can add threat from the flanks, they might surprise a few teams this season.
6. Goa Continue To Be The Great Entertainers Of The League
It took all of five minutes to come to the realization that Goa will not change anything from last season. They scored a record 42 times in the regular season in 2017-18, but also conceded 28 goals in the process. If the hope was that Sergio Lobera would tighten things at the back, on this evidence, that is not going to happen. Youngster, Mohammad Nawaz, was a surprise pick in goal and he had a nervy game throughout, also being completely at fault for the first NorthEast goal. As expected, the Gaurs had a lion’s share of possession, but Manuel Lanzarote’s absence was felt acutely, and it remains to be seen if his absence sees a drop in the goal count this season. The return of Edu Bedia and Brandon Fernandes will help matters, but if Goa continue to leave open spaces in the quest to attack, they might find that outscoring the opposition will not be as easy as it was last season.
Mumbai City FC 0 – Jamshedpur FC 2
7. Home Woes Continue For The Islanders
A new manager, Jorge Costa, may have come in to replace Alexandre Guimaraes, but the Islanders still cannot buy a win at home. Their opponents were the better team in the first half, but Mumbai produced a lot more in the latter stages of the game and had two goals ruled out for offside. The three frontmen in Sanju Pradhan, Bipin Singh and Modou Sougou tried gamely but the home side lacked the quality to trouble Jamshedpur often. It was a surprise to see Matias Mirabaje come on only towards the end of the game. His ability to unlock defences was sorely missed and he must surely start the next game against Kerala. Mumbai lost four games on the bounce at home during the business end of last season. The Mumbai Football Arena has to become a fortress this season if the Islanders harbour playoff hopes.
8. Jamshedpur’s Foreign Contingent Impress
With all the attention focused on Tim Cahill, the rest of Jamshedpur’s overseas signings went under the radar before the season started. Tiri and Memo had both shown their quality last season, but Mario Arques, Sergio Cidoncha, Pablo Morgado and especially, Carlos Calvo, had debuts to remember. The Red Miners were defensively solid last season, but lacked a goal threat and new manager, Cesar Ferrando, has looked at players from his country, Spain, to add some guile and creativity to the squad. Cahill, who missed this match, looked on admiringly from the sidelines. If they continue to play like this, he might struggle to make the lineup himself.
Delhi Dynamos 1 – FC Pune City 1
9. Another Indian Player To The Fore At The Dynamos
Notwithstanding their results last season, there were good stories to be taken away in the development of Vinit Rai, Mohammad Sajid Dhot, Nandha Kumar Sekar, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Romeo Fernandes. The Dynamos do not spend a lot on foreign transfers and this has meant that Indian players are central to what they are trying to achieve on the field. Rana Gharami is the latest to benefit from this approach and the ISL debutant capped a great performance in the heart of defence with a goal from distance. New manager, Josep Gombau, got his side to play in the pleasing style Delhi are synonymous with these days, but familiar failings came back to haunt them against Pune when they conceded just before the final whistle went. Delhi will have to learn to close games out or they will suffer like they did last season.
10. Miguel Angel Portugal Gets His Wish
It was an immediate return to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi for Portugal, who coached the Dynamos last year. He did not part on great terms with the owners, disagreeing with them on the funds available to him for players. In one interview last season, he cited the example of Pune who had spent a lot on foreign talent. This season, Pune have added more quality to that squad and Portugal has been tasked with taking them a step further after making the semifinals for the first time in ISL 4. His new side were restricted to attacks from the flanks through Ashique Kuruniyan and Jakob Vanlalhlimpuia for a good portion of the game and Emiliano Alfaro did not have too many touches of the ball. Diego Carlos’ introduction improved matters, and with Marcelinho to come back into this team, the Stallions will be happy to go back home with an away point.