Kerala Blasters 2 – ATK 1
1) Ogbeche Carries On From Where He Left Off
Bartholomew Ogbeche’s goals were a major factor in NorthEast United reaching the playoffs last season. Not surprisingly, Eelco Schattorie brought his striker along with him when he moved to the Blasters. It was plainly obvious to everyone that a historically goal-shy franchise needed someone of his ability and he delivered in his first game. His penalty turned the tide around after ATK had scored first but it was his second, a stunner from near the edge of the box, that had the packed Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on their feet. Schattorie will be slightly concerned by the levels of performance though. Kerala were sloppy with the ball for large portions and struggled to create clear-cut chances. This could be attributed to early season rust and the unavailability of key players but the Blasters cannot depend on their captain to bail them out every time as the season progresses.
2) ATK Unlucky In Defeat
For thirty minutes, ATK were untouchable. They pressed high up the pitch hustling their opponents into errors and in general, controlled proceedings. The first goal arrived in the sixth minute courtesy a great volley by Irishman, Carl McHugh. This spurred the Kolkatan side on and they cut open the Kerala defence repeatedly. They could have been three up by the time the Blasters equalized. David Williams had the ball in the net and was wrongly flagged to be offside and a penalty wasn’t given even though Cidoncha had blatantly hauled Michael Soosairaj onto the ground. A Moustapha Gning handball in the second half escaped the attention of the referee too and Antonio López Habas was left fuming on the touchline repeatedly. Kerala shut up shop in the second half and fewer opportunities came their way but ATK will take heart from their performance on the night.
Bengaluru FC 0 – NorthEast United 0
3) Onwu Has Big Shoes To Fill
The Blues have recruited Manuel Onwu to replace Miku, who has left after two seasons at the club. The Venezuelan did not have quite the same impact last year as he did the previous season, but Bengaluru missed his big presence up front when he wasn’t available. Onwu has big shoes to fill and he did not have the best debut leading the line against the Highlanders. He was occupied by the two NorthEast centre-backs and barely touched the ball inside the box. He only completed five passes in the game and had zero shots on target. He was allowed just the one attempt. While he did win a free kick and a corner, Carles Cuadrat will be hoping for more from the ex-Osasuna striker. Options are thin in that role. Whenever Sunil Chhetri played there last season, he did not have much of an impact and it was the same with Chencho Gyeltshen, who of course is not at the club anymore. Onwu will in most probability make the cut, but the Blues will not rest easy until he does.
4) Highlanders Have Their Like-For-Like Replacements
The big questions being asked about NorthEast United this season revolved around their missing stars from last season. Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego were at the heart of everything the side did in forward areas and it was a big blow when Ogbeche departed for the Blasters. Gallego, of course, is still at the club but we will not see him don their colours until the second half of the season. He is yet to recover from the horrible injury sustained at the same stadium in last season’s semifinal second leg. Asamoah Gyan and Martin Cháves were brought in as replacements and while there was no questioning the Ghanaian’s quality, Cháves proved upto the task with an inspired display in tough conditions. In the hole behind the striker, he tormented the Blues defence all evening creating the most opportunities of any player from either side while also producing the most shots. He got his foot in when required as well and the famous Uruguayan terrier spirit was in full display. If he keeps this up, his countryman will have a tough time getting back into the eleven.
5) Jamshedpur FC 2 – Odisha FC 1
Choudhary Steps Upto The Plate
Farukh Choudhary has had an interesting year. Despite inconsistent performances for Jamshedpur in the ISL, he was picked by Igor Stimac for the King’s Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. It speaks of the paucity of strikers in Indian football that he found a place having scored only two goals in a couple of seasons for the Miners. This campaign provides him with a chance to redress that anomaly and he has started very well. The Red Miners showed a lot of grit and determination to walk away with three points after going a man down and the youngster from Mumbai epitomised that spirit. His deflected cross resulted in Jamshedpur’s first goal and he put in a tireless shift, getting up and down the pitch all night. He did stuff up on a glorious opportunity when given the freedom of the park to score but the early signs are good and the goals should finally come.
6) New Name, Same Old Problems For Odisha
Familiar failings came back to haunt Josep Gombau’s men as they conceded in the latter stages of a match for the umpteenth time. To do so, and concede the number of chances they did in the second half with an extra player on the pitch, was criminal. How long can this squad and the manager justify the naïveté on display? The core of this side have been together for far too long for inexperience to be used as an excuse anymore. At least, there was a debut goal for Aridane Santana and it was a beauty. If he can get goals regularly for Odisha, it may paper over some of the cracks. Jerry Mawihmingthanga had a lively game on the right wing and Martin Guedes looked good when he came on for the surprisingly ineffectual Xisco Hernandez. They were the bright sparks for Odisha but there is a lot for Gombau to mull over.
FC Goa 3 – Chennaiyin FC 0
7) Indian Contingent Impress Yet Again For Gaurs
All the talk in the buildup to the game was about the impact the absence of Ahmed Jahouh would make. As it turned out, Edu Bedia and Hugo Boumous were missing as well and it made absolutely no difference to the team’s performance. Sergio Lobera named only three foreigners in his eighteen and the Indian players came to the party. Lenny Rodrigues and Brandon Fernandes were imperious in the middle of the park as Goa started with Manvir Singh up top instead of Coro. Manvir has recently been used in that position by Stimac against Qatar and Bangladesh and he did not disappoint, interchanging seamlessly with Coro and the wingers. Seriton Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai kept bombing down the flanks to provide width and the Gaurs could easily have had more than the three goals. The rest of the league have been served notice. Goa mean business yet again.
8) Chennaiyin’s Defensive Woes Continue
The Machans conceded a league high 32 goals last season to go along with a lack of goal threat. An away matchup against Goa was the most difficult start to the season they could have, as John Gregory conceded before the game, but the manager must already be concerned with his backline. Goa opened them up repeatedly after the first half hour, and Lucian Goian had a difficult debut in the heart of defence. On paper, Goian and Eli Sabia form a dependable duo but they have some work to do before they get there. Chennaiyin were unlucky not to get a penalty in the tenth minute when Seriton tripped Dragos Firtulescu in the box but did not create too much otherwise. André Schembri held the ball up well and released his teammates on a few occasions but will hope to add to the goals column in the next few weeks. Chennaiyin can ill-afford another goal drought this year.
Kerala Blasters 0 – Mumbai City FC 1
9) Blasters Struggling To Play Out From The Back
Eelco Schattorie has his work cut out for him changing Kerala’s playing identity. There has been a noticeable change this season in the way the Blasters build from the back and both ATK and Mumbai have employed the high press. ATK should really have taken advantage a couple of times in the first game and while clear-cut opportunities weren’t created by the Islanders this time around, the home team were flirting with danger. The entire backline and the two central midfielders, Moustapha Gning and Jeakson Singh have looked tentative and it will probably take them another game or two to get into the groove of things. Bilal Khan in goal looks especially nervous and Schattorie will install Rehenesh T.P. in that position as soon as he recovers from injury.
10) Chermiti Looks A Handful
Jorge Costa has been handed a selection dilemma for their game against Chennaiyin FC on Sunday. Two of his key players in captain, Paulo Machado, and Mato Grgic had to be replaced in the first half due to injuries. It is unclear if they will be fit for the encounter with such a short turn-around time between fixtures. Pratik Chowdhary fitted in competently in the heart of defence when called upon but if Machado were available, Costa may have to figure out a way to include both Modou Sougou and Amine Chermiti in the starting eleven. Sougou only came in due to Machado’s injury but both strikers played extremely well off each other with Chermiti in particular impressing on his debut. He capped the performance with a great finish to seal a well-deserved three points. Sougou has to be first-choice but Mumbai could do very well with a 4-4-2 formation that accommodates both strikers.