FC Goa 1 – Bengaluru FC 2
1) Extreme Naïveté From Ali In A Crunch Game
A mainstay in the Goa defence last year, local boy Mohamed Ali has found minutes hard to come by this season. Konsham Singh started the season alongside Mourtada Fall in the heart of defence but after a poor outing against Jamshedpur, Sergio Lobera brought Ali into the side hoping to add some solidity in the area. This game was supposed to be the biggest test of Goa’s improvement in a part of the pitch that has proven to be their Achilles heel for quite some time. It was hard to make a case for the Gaurs backline though, given that Ali got himself sent off soon after the second half kicked off. For a player on a yellow, his decision to swat the ball away with his hand can be described as nothing but a brain fade. Unfortunately for Goa, it is a habit that they cannot seem to get rid of.
2) Bengaluru The Team To Beat
The Blues went into this game without star striker, Miku, and an influential presence in Erik Paartalu. Sunil Chhetri had just recovered from an injury that saw him miss India’s outing in Jordan and if there was ever a good time to play Bengaluru, it was now. Except for a brief period at the start of the game, however, they looked in control throughout and if Dimas Delgado had not been sent off controversially, they could very well have added more goals to their tally. After a slightly iffy start to the season, the side have looked the part and seem determined to claim the trophy they feel should have been theirs last year. The slow start coincided with Delgado’s absence and it will be interesting to see how they respond to that challenge this time around. Either way, Bengaluru are the ones setting the pace heading into a busy period of games.
NorthEast United FC 2 – Kerala Blasters 1
3) The Highlanders Brigade Rolls On
After a loss in the previous game to Mumbai, NorthEast United got back to winning ways with a well-deserved win over Kerala. They went into added time trailing 0-1 and it would have been a travesty of sorts if the score had stayed that way. The Highlanders were the better team from start to finish and had a total of 25 attempts on goal. The fact that they never gave up and kept piling on the pressure is testament to the spirit in the side, something they will need in good measure throughout the season, especially when the inevitable dry spell comes around. It was an Uruguayan yet again who was the hero with a late, late winner. It was not the usual suspect, Federico Gallego, however. Substitute, Juan Cruz Mascia, took the honours this time around.
4) Jhingan Beginning To Be A Concern
If there is one Indian player who has used the ISL to make a substantial step up in class, it has been Sandesh Jhingan. While not exactly an unknown entity in 2014, the Hero ISL Emerging Player from the first season has come along leaps and bounds and is now the mainstay of the defence line at both club and country. He has been impregnable in his position for a few years now, which is why it is a bit of a worry that mistakes have started creeping into his game. They have been more on the mental side of the game rather than the physical, with a few instances already this season where the decision making has gone awry. An inexplicable shove on Mascia in the penalty box changed the fortunes of his side on the night and he immediately fell on his knees with face in hands. Ogbeche scored from the penalty spot and the comeback was on, leaving Jhingan to reflect on the consequence of his action.
Mumbai City FC 0 – ATK 0
5) Home Team Play Their Part In Snooze Fest
This game had 0-0 written all over it even before it began. In seven games before this encounter, Mumbai had managed to score seven goals and concede eight, the same as their opponents on the night. The two most pragmatic teams in the league were facing off and while the Islanders had the better of the possession stats, they created very little. In a battle of attrition, it would have needed something special to break the deadlock and that moment of magic wasn’t forthcoming. The end result was a game lacking in quality, easily the worst of the season so far.
6) ATK Revert To Type
The Kolkatan team seemed to have learnt from its struggles in their previous game against Pune. In what was their best performance of the season, Balwant Singh was restored to the front of the attack and unsurprisingly, playing players in their preferred positions yielded results. Against Mumbai, he was shunted back to the wings and familiar service was restored. It is easy to see why Steve Coppell likes him there. He does not shirk his defensive responsibilities, helping his left back negate the impact of Arnold Issoko in this game but it does take away from ATK’s attack and a stalemate was the right result for everyone involved.
Jamshedpur FC 3 – Chennaiyin FC 1
7) Cido Message Sign Of Team Spirit
If questions were asked of Jamshedpur’s ability to cope in the absence of Sergio Cidoncha, the three remaining Spaniards in the team’s midfield answered in the best way possible, with a goal apiece in a dominant performance against the reigning champions. Following his goal, Carlos Calvo got a yellow card from the referee for raising his top to reveal a message of support for his injured teammate, which was a shame. The great spirit within the squad has been on full display right through the season, and this was yet another example of unity, which only augurs well for the team in their push for a play-off spot.
8) Jerry Symptomatic Of Chennaiyin Troubles
Jerry Lalrinzuala shot into the limelight in 2016 with several eye-catching displays in his first season at the club and continued in that rich vein of form last season as well, as Chennaiyin won the title. The youngster excelled at left-back, showing good acumen in defensive areas and providing decent support to the attacking players on the flank. He was one of several players who consistently played at a high level, and this meant that the team was greater than the sum of its parts. That has not been the case in the current campaign, and Jerry’s level has dipped, like many others in the squad. His mistake resulted in a penalty for Jamshedpur in this game and worryingly for the Machans, he seems to have been found out a bit by opposition teams.
Bengaluru FC 1 – Delhi Dynamos 0
9) Paartalu Rescues The Blues Yet Again
Bengaluru’s progression from a very good team under Ashley Westwood to the best in the country under Albert Roca had largely hinged on the quality that had been introduced in the midfield areas. Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Cameron Watson, Alwyn George and Mandar Rao Dessai fulfilled the brief in Roca’s first season at the club but a step up in class was needed for their ISL bow last year and Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado, Edu Garcia and Tony Dovale were added to the squad. They provided the technical ability and work off the ball that separate the truly great midfielders from the rest, and the Blues ran away with the league in the group stages last season. Only Paartalu and Delgado remain from that group and it is not surprising that Bengaluru struggle when they are not on the pitch. After a first half completely dominated by Delhi, Carles Cuadrat had to turn to Paartalu on the bench sooner than he would have liked, with the Australian having only returned from toe surgery. It turned the game, however, and Bengaluru managed to eke out the win.
10) Time To Give Lalhlimpuia An Extended Run
One has to feel for Delhi. They are one of the most watchable teams in the league, playing attractive possession-based football pleasing on the eye. That is, until the final third of the pitch. Once they get there, they do not know what to do with the ball. While it is true that crossing in general is a skill that we could all do better at in Indian football, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Nandhakumar Sekar attempted six each in this match, and none of them found the intended target. A lot of the blame lies with the incumbent centre-forward, Andrija Kaludjerovic, who is having a horror season. Severely short on confidence, he takes the right positions but seems hesitant to attack the ball with any conviction, inexplicably halting his runs sometimes. He would long have been put out of his misery if there was more experienced backup. While Daniel Lalhlimpuia has had a lot more minutes than he had at Bengaluru last season, the youngster could probably do with a proper run in the team. He couldn’t possibly do much worse than Kaludjerovic.