Talking Points From Week 9 Of ISL 5

FC Pune City 0 – NorthEast United 2

     1) When The Ball Just Refuses To Go In

When Robin Singh saw Mato Grjic clear a goal bound effort just moments before the final whistle, he probably already knew that the ball was not destined to go in. It was one of those nights for the Stallions, especially in the first half. Umpteen times, one thought that Pune had scored, only for that to be proven false. Through a combination of last ditch defending, poor finishing and the ball not dropping kindly, NorthEast survived. To add insult to injury, a blatant handball by Gurwinder Singh in the penalty box was not penalized by the referee. To their credit, Pune kept at it and even though they tired in the second half, there are signs of fight still remaining in the camp.

     2) Leudo An Under Appreciated Presence

With the exploits of Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego this season, the contributions of NorthEast’s other foreign signings, all of whom have been excellent, have gone slightly under the radar. Grjic and Mislav Komorski have been solid in the heart of defence as well but with all the appreciation that a rejuvenated Rowllin Borges has received for his performances this season, the focus has rarely been on the man alongside him in the middle of park. Jose Leudo has been the enforcer for the Highlanders and the Colombian has made himself indispensable to Eelco Schattorie. His role requires him to eschew the glamorous and aesthetic elements of football, but his team-mates would be the first to acknowledge how vital a clog he is in this well-oiled NorthEast machine.

ATK 0 – FC Goa 0

     3) Do ATK Fans Deserve Better?

Steve Coppell sides are based on the principle of disruption and picking up scraps from opposition mistakes rather than creation, which is why his sides are always comfortable allowing the other team to have the ball. The end template is the always the same. Possession in the 30-40% range and a lot of 0-0s, 1-0s and 1-1s, which means that they score and concede around the same number of goals as the number of games they play. The stats bear this out. In 2016, his Kerala side played 14 games in the league phase, scoring 13 and conceding 15 goals. Last season, Jamshedpur played 18 games, scoring 16 goals and conceding 18. In 9 games this season, ATK has 7 and 8 respectively. With the quality of players at his disposal this year, unlike his situation at previous clubs, is it an unreasonable expectation to demand more from the side?

     4) A Good Defensive Test For Lobera’s Men

Goa does not do scoreless draws. The last time they were involved in a 0-0 result was back in November 2016. Clean sheets are rare too. They only had two last season and one in the current campaign prior to this game. This Gaurs side would have been ripe for the taking if they had played an expansive game with fullbacks bombing forward on both flanks, leaving space for ATK to exploit. While they did leave gaps at times in the first half, it was a more conservative display by Lobera’s men, allowing for the strengths of the opposition on the day. The main criticism of this side has been the lack of a Plan B and it was instructive that they were willing to take a more pragmatic approach and leave with a valuable away point. Equally importantly, the shutout at the back would have given the defenders and keeper some confidence.

Chennaiyin FC 0 – Kerala Blasters 0

     5) Machans Get Off The Mark At Home

Chennaiyin collected their first home point of the season but it could have been all three if they had taken some gilt-edged chances. Thoi Singh in particular was guilty of spurning opportunities that should have been put away, but then goal scoring has never been part of his game, notwithstanding the three he has to his name this season. Jeje Lalpekhlua is coming back into form but still seems to lack confidence in front of goal. How Chennaiyin would love for him to rediscover his scoring touch. He is very much a form player and maybe putting one away will open the floodgates. At the moment, the team is dependent on goals from players for whom it is not a main responsibility, and that is not sustainable.

     6) The Blasters In A Muddle

Kerala’s results had been progressively worsening going into this game. After the high of an away win on the first day of the season, they drew the next four before losing their last three games. A draw in Chennai is probably akin to plugging a ruptured artery but for how long? While they can rightfully claim that lady luck has not been on their side in a few games, their last few performances have not been good to watch. While other teams like Delhi, ATK and their opponents in this game, Chennaiyin, have not exactly set the world on fire, they at least seem to have a game plan on the field. David James’ coaching inexperience comes through very clearly when the Blasters play, and it will take a herculean effort now for the side to make the playoffs.

Bengaluru FC 2 – FC Pune City 1

     7) Bheke’nbauer To The Rescue Again

Rahul Bheke had never scored in the ISL until last week. He now has two in three games for Bengaluru. After inadvertently guiding a cut-back into his own net to give Pune the equalizer, he did exactly the same at the right end in the 88thminute to set the Kanteerava alight in the closing stages. It was just reward for a dominating and probing performance by the Blues. They had a staggering 33 attempts on goal, including 10 on target. After an uncertain first start in the previous game, Bhutanese import, Chencho Gyeltshen, had a lively game and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet, as were others in the side. The way Bengaluru are going, they could have qualification for the playoff sealed in record time.

     8) Pune Fizzle Out After Lively Start

In the first 10 minutes of this game, Pune looked like they were in with a chance. They started better off the blocks and did not let the home team settle. A fizzing cross by Ashique Kuruniyan only just eluded the head of Robin Singh and Marcelinho seemed to be in the mood. Udanta’s goal against the run of play killed their spirit however, and even though Bheke provided them with a lifeline, the energy just seemed to drain out of the side. They looked bereft of ideas and the rest of the game was spent in ensuring that Bengaluru did not get a winner. Typically for them this season, they did not succeed, and the team tipped by many for the title this year look like they could win the wooden spoon instead.

Jamshedpur FC 0 – NorthEast United 0

     9) Red Miners Unusually Subdued At Home

After two exhilarating home performances against Goa and Chennaiyin, fans turned up in full force at the Furnace, expecting a goal fest. The opposition was NorthEast United after all, another team who have not found it too difficult to find the back of the net this season. Only Bengaluru and Goa have scored more goals this season and an exciting match was in prospect. As usually happens with these games, the reality did not match the hype and there weren’t enough passages of decent play to even make a short highlights package. A forgettable game for everyone involved.

     10) Dependence On Ogbeche And Gallego Showing For Highlanders

NorthEast United have scored 14 goals this season, but 10 of them have been contributed by Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego. The responsibility of creating openings rest with Gallego as well and he has 4 assists to go with his two goals. With both players closely marked in this game, the onus fell on Redeem Tlang, Lalthathanga Khawlhring and Nikhil Kadam to try and fashion more opportunities than they usually do. They were shut out comfortably and it should be a worry for the Highlanders that they have no goals or assists to show for their efforts this season. It was no surprise really the that the only shot on target in this game came courtesy a Gallego effort from an Ogbeche pass. How long can they keep delivering though?

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