Talking Points From Week 1 Of ISL 7

Kerala Blasters 0 – ATK Mohun Bagan 1

1) Signs Of Optimism In Opening Day Defeat

It wasn’t the greatest of spectacles. For a game being broadcast in 82 countries, it failed to live up to its billing as both teams showed signs of early season rust. The Blasters were expected to take more time to acclimatize given the churn in their squad but surprisingly, looked the more cohesive unit for large parts of the game. Kibu Vicuña wants his team to play out of the back and they looked comfortable doing that with Bakary Koné and Costa Nhamoinescu already looking like very good signings. The trouble was in progressing the ball into the final third and Gary Hooper had a frustrating night up front. There has to be more quality shown on the flanks if Kerala have to threaten this season, but this was a decent, if slightly disheartening, start to their campaign. 

2) One Moment Of Quality Enough For ATK Mohun Bagan

This was a big night for a franchise making their debut as a combined entity. The defending champions and one of Asia’s oldest clubs had come together in a move that made sense for all parties involved and they were keen to put on a show. It was not to be though and for most of the game, the team were decidedly second-best. An early injury to Michael Soosairaj possibly disrupted plans but the decision to not play any pre-season friendlies showed in the performance. A better opponent would have used the space behind Subhasish Bose more effectively and asked questions of Sandesh Jhingan, who has not played any football for a year. In the end, it needed a defensive mistake and a quality intervention from Roy Krishna to seal the points. The ability to win without playing well is a defining quality and Antonio López Habas will not be too displeased with his wards. 

NorthEast United 1 – Mumbai City FC 0

3) Youngest ISL Coach Makes Winning Start

Gerard Nus may only be thirty-five, but he has been coaching for the best part of two decades now and he announced his arrival on the Indian stage with a stunning victory. NorthEast did not have much of the ball but looked extremely organized as a unit, which is not surprising since Nus earned his spurs under the tutelage of Rafael Benítez. José Leudo looked a big loss in the heart of midfield but Khassa Camara, who was brought in to replace him, had a very good game. Of course, it helped that Mumbai were down to ten men for the entire second half but a win for a side with limited resources against a franchise bankrolled by the City Football Group is always welcome. 

4) Jahouh Dismissal Costs The Islanders

Ahmed Jahouh’s obligatory red card for the season did not arrive in a final this time around but it sure did ruin Sergio Lobera’s first game in charge of Mumbai. His team had 66% of the ball even though they lost the Moroccan in the 43rd minute, but the Islanders lacked a cutting edge even before his dismissal. None of his star acquisitions had a good game, with Hugo Boumous in particular, looking well off the pace. This can most probably be put down to a disruptive pre-season but with Lobera’s previous employers lying in wait almost immediately, the Islanders have to get up to speed pretty soon and justify all the hype surrounding them this season. 

FC Goa 2 – Bengaluru FC 2

5) Gaurs May Have Found Coro Replacement

How do you replace the all-time ISL goal scorer who had found the net forty-eight times over three seasons at almost a goal-a-game? You find someone equally prolific. Goa did not play too well in their first half under a new coach but a deft flick in injury time suggested that Igor Angula had the quality to trouble defences. His effort found the goalkeeper, but he made sure that India’s number one was beaten twice in the second half. The Spaniard found goals regularly in the Polish top-flight and even though he will turn thirty-seven midway through this campaign, his predecessor showed last year that a good striker’s powers do not necessarily wane with age. 

6) Set-Pieces Keep Delivering For The Blues

There has been no team more adept at scoring at set-pieces in the league than Bengaluru. They work very hard at them in training and while a few routines seem unnecessarily complicated, the coaching staff will rightly point to their success rate. One of their goals here arrived via a long throw into the box and the other was scored following a corner routine. The danger for Carles Cuadrat’s men is that they may be getting overly dependent on them. It was a problem last season as well and the hope is that Cleiton Silva, Kristian Opseth, Deshorn Brown and Sunil Chhetri will find other avenues to score between the four of them. Any title challenge will hinge upon success on that front. 

Odisha FC 0 – Hyderabad FC 1

7) Gombau Playbook Out Of The Window

Over the past couple of seasons, Josep Gombau had created a team that was pleasing on the eye. Their possession-heavy style did not always translate into results but did improve the technical abilities of a young Indian contingent. Early into this encounter, it was clear that Stuart Baxter had different ideas for his new wards. The midfield was often bypassed as long ball after long ball was launched into the forward areas. It did not work. Their talisman, Marcelinho, did not see much of the ball and Manuel Onwu, being played out of position, did not make much of an impression on the wings. It may well be that Baxter was trying to fit his best players into the eleven, but he will have to go back to the drawing board. 

8) First Ever Clean-Sheet For The Nizams

The winners of last season’s wooden spoon did not keep a single sheet and conceded a league-high thirty-nine goals. It augurs well for them that they managed one in their first game this time around. More importantly, a side that was cobbled together in difficult circumstances played some impressive football. Hyderabad have looked good in pre-season but there were doubts about their ability to replicate their form on the big stage. Here, with Aridane Santana leading the line, they were quicker to every ball and frankly, better at all aspects of the game. Liston Colaco produced a late cameo reminiscent of the end to his last season and this could be a breakthrough campaign for the young Goan. With Adil Khan not needed and other big hitters to arrive, the early signs are good for Manuel Roca’s men.    

Jamshedpur FC 1 – Chennaiyin FC 2

9) Coyle’s Team Stumble Against Old Team

Owen Coyle made the switch to the Red Miners over the summer and his competitive debut at the club was against his old employers. It did not quite go to plan as his team were slow out of the blocks, conceding two goals within the half-hour. The man who followed him to the club, Nerijus Valskis, halved the deficit before half-time but Jamshedpur could not breach the Chennaiyin defence further. There were encouraging signs though. The team played some decent football and should improve as the season progresses. Valskis showed that he will continue to score goals as long as the service is on point. Jackichand Singh, with twenty-four goal contributions during his time in the ISL, will be key to this happening. 

10) Thapa Opens Scoring Account For Indians

Indians do not score as many goals as they should in the ISL. In 2019-20, only 24.48% of goals were scored by a local player. This signified a drop of 10% from the previous season. There were four Indians in the list of top-ten assist makers though, which meant that it wasn’t all bad news. One of them, Anirudh Thapa, has been backed to add more goals to his game and he delivered here. Arriving late into the box, he connected sweetly with a scuffed cross from new signing, Esmaël Gonçalves. The Bissau-Guinean player also tucked in a penalty, making it a decent debut for a player expected to carry the goal-scoring load for the Machans this season. More importantly, Chennaiyin looked the real deal. Only time will tell if they will challenge for the title, but the football will be easy on the eye. 

Image Credit – Official Indian Super League Twitter Page

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