Talking Points From Week 16 Of ISL 5

Mumbai City FC 0 – NorthEast United FC 2

     1) Alarming Dip For The Islanders

Mumbai have played themselves into a hole. Comfortably placed after their win against Bengaluru in January, they have lost their last three games and more worryingly, have hit a run of poor form at the worst stage of the season. The goals have dried up completely as teams have realized that the best way to stop Modou Sougou and company is to let them have the ball. There aren’t high defensive lines for Mumbai’s pacy forward and wingers to spin off anymore and if there is a Plan B, it has not been made apparent yet. Jorge Costa will be relieved that his side’s fate is still in their own hands, but they desperately need a result at Kolkata.

     2) Full-Backs Offer Answers For The Highlanders

NorthEast United’s dependence on Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego have been found out in recent weeks and both players have been marked heavily. Other players in attacking areas have struggled to step up to the plate and it was left to the two full-backs to stretch the game and provide more width to the side. Keegan Pereira and Reagan Singh both provided telling balls into the box which were finished in contrasting styles. Surprisingly, it was Ogbeche who seemed to know little about his effort, the ball thudding into the back of the net off his shins. The ever impressive Rowllin Borges on the other hand, knew exactly what he was doing, side footing the ball home deliciously from fifteen yards. The result left both teams with the same number of points, goals scored, and goals conceded. A better head-to-head record secured a higher table placing for the Highlanders, but like Mumbai, they still have work to do.

FC Goa 3 – ATK 0

     3) Gaurs Peaking At Right Time

Goa smoothened their path into the playoffs with a convincing win against the two-time champions. The team have not lost in five matches and are hitting top form as the business end of the season approaches. More impressively, they have kept a clean sheet in the last four games. Sergio Lobera still swears by his philosophy of outscoring opponents, but it must please him no end that his team have added some steel at the back. At the other end, they have been as clinical as ever and passed thirty goals for the season during the fixture. A big reason for that is Coro of course, and he moved to the top of the league’s goal and assist tally with a fine all-round display.

     4) Inquest Can Start For Expensive Squad

Following this result, ATK need a miracle to qualify for the playoff round, and while Steve Coppell was mildly optimistic, it is not going to happen. Questions will be asked of a side with so many star names, and yet, such little end product. In my review of Gameweek 1, I had mentioned that Coppell needed to find his best eleven and there lay the problem right through the season. ATK kept throwing more big names like Emiliano Alfaro and Edu Garcia into the mix even after the season began, without addressing the imbalances that already existed. Chasing a win in this game, they never stood a chance and while both of Coro’s goals can be attributed to average refereeing decisions, the margin of victory could have been even bigger if not for goalkeeper, Arindam Bhattacharja. The late charge we have been expecting from this side has just failed to materialize.

Kerala Blasters 3 – Chennaiyin FC 0

     5) Home Win At Long Last For Blasters

The last time Kerala’s passionate fans had a win to celebrate at Kochi was on the 27thof January 2018. More than a year later, Nelo Vingada’s side gave them what they have been clamoring for all season; a team on the front foot that they can get behind. Following on from an impressive display at Bengaluru, the Blasters blew the visitors away with an assured performance brimming with confidence. Kizito Keziron and Courage Pekuson found minutes hard to come by under David James but have been used to good effect in the last couple of games. The new manager has infused some confidence into the strikers as well and Matej Poplatnik doubled his tally for the season with a well taken brace.

     6) Chennaiyin Come Back To Earth With Insipid Display

The defending champions showed that their win against Bengaluru was a flash in the pan with a lethargic display. All three goals conceded lent themselves to errors from their players rather than anything spectacular from Kerala, and John Gregory has had to contend with a similar pattern throughout the season. The team have lacked fight and while new signing, Chris Herd, has shored things up in the middle of the park, an unfortunate injury opened space up for the Blasters to capitalize on for the second goal. The Machans face an uphill battle to avoid being the first champion to go home with the wooden spoon the following season.

Jamshedpur FC 1 – FC Pune City 4

     7) Next Generation Strikers Fail To Step Up

A cursory look at the top scorers list for the season reveals a paucity of Indian players. Sumeet Passi, Manvir Singh and Farukh Choudhary were taken to the SAFF Cup in September as next-generation strikers and the hope was that they would step up to the plate in the ISL this season. With only five goals between them, it has been anything but. Manvir can point to a lack of minutes at free scoring Goa, but Passi and Choudhary have been given adequate playing time at Jamshedpur due to extraneous circumstances and have not made the most of their opportunities. In a must win game, both had poor outings and failed to test the Pune defence. Farukh set the tone early by missing a golden chance when it seemed easier to score and the night provided a grim reminder to Indian fans of life after Sunil Chhetri.

     8) Pune Finally Living Up To Pre-Season Hype

I had tipped Pune to make the playoffs in my season preview and while it looks foolish now, my judgement was based on how this squad performed last year and then strengthened during the post-season. A horrible start to the new season followed with stories of internal unrest under Miguel Angel Portugal, and the side only took five points from its first ten games. They have since embarked on a good run of form and have thirteen points from their last five, leading the form table in the league. Interim manager, Pradyum Reddy’s steadying hand and the invigorating presence of new manager, Phil Brown, have helped the Stallions turn their season around. Sadly, the upturn in fortune has come a bit too late and Pune will miss out on the playoffs, but a talented squad are showing what they are capable of.  Nobody typifies this more than Marcelinho, who seems far removed from the petulant presence he was earlier this season. Playing with a load off his shoulders, he glided across the field like the player of old and helped inflict a first home defeat of the season on the Red Miners.

Delhi Dynamos 3 – Bengaluru FC 2

     9) Daniel Redeems Himself Against Old Club

Daniel Lalhlimpuia did not cut it at Bengaluru last season and has shown why that was the case while at Delhi this year. He suffered the ignominy of being replaced by a reserve player in the last game and was relegated to the bench in this one, with Josep Gombau opting to start with a midfielder in Shubham Sarangi up front. He was introduced at halftime, however, and rewarded his manager with two goals that won the game for Delhi. He missed sitters and was extremely lucky with both his finishes, but he made his own fortune, and will hope to build on the confidence that goals give a striker. He has three for the season now, one behind club top scorer, Lallianzuala Chhangte, and he would probably want to take that position with two games remaining.

     10) Gurpreet Is Not India’s Best On Current Form

Ironically, on the night that Gurpreet Singh Sandhu put on the Golden Glove arm-band on, he had his worst game of the season. He was at fault for every one of the goals, getting a poor hand on all three efforts. Following on from the mistake he made at Chennaiyin in the previous game, it has been a bad few days for India’s number one, a position he holds with lesser certainty with every passing day. Amrinder Singh has been knocking on the door for quite some time now and at the moment, looks a far more assured presence in goal. And with the emergence of Dheeraj Singh and Mohammad Nawaz, Gurpreet has a battle on his hands to remain India’s long-term custodian.

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