Chennaiyin FC 1 – Mumbai City FC 1
1) Machans Benefit From Hanging In There
Save for an early burst, Chennaiyin were never really in control against Mumbai. A couple of moves broke down in the final third while the Islanders were easing themselves into the contest, but that was the extent of trouble they caused the backline in the first half. It is to their credit that they hung on waiting for an opportunity to come their way and come their way it did. Ahmed Jahouh’s dawdling on the ball resulted in a penalty and Esmaël Gonçalves converted in the 76th minute to give the Machans a share of the spoils. While not quite the perfect result, not too many teams have taken points off Sergio Lobera’s men this season. In a tight playoff race, a point against the possible champions could prove invaluable in the end.
2) Jahouh’s Error-Proneness On Display Again
The Moroccan is a Rolls-Royce of a player, possibly still the best in the league. He has always been prone to lapses in discipline and concentration though. Jahouh picked up his third yellow card of the season to go with his two reds, and it was in the worst place possible. Trying to play the ball out of the back as usual with the centre-backs split, he was hurried into a mistake by Jakub Sylvestr. The Slovakian was brought down in the process and Chennaiyin had the opening they were looking for. There have been a couple of close escapes for Jahouh this season in the box and this time, he had to pay for one of them. Mumbai will continue to play the way they do, and opponents have already tried to close him down in the past. This transgression will only mean that they do it even more.
NorthEast United 2 – ATK Mohun Bagan 1
3) Highlanders Finally Get The Better Of Habas
NorthEast United had never beaten an Antonio López Habas side before this game. Khalid Jamil got the honor of presiding over proceedings when that happened as his team put in an inspired second half performance. Leading the way were Federico Gallego and Luís Machado. They combined brilliantly, causing the ATK Mohun Bagan backline all sorts of problems. It was especially pleasing to see the Uruguayan, Gallego, back to his best. Along with Bartholomew Ogbeche, he took the league by storm in the 2018-19 season before that horrid injury against Bengaluru in the playoff semifinals. It was obvious that he had not fully recovered last season, but credit must go to the Highlanders management for persisting with him. At his best, he is a glorious player to watch and his goal to seal victory here was a thing of beauty.
4) Mariners Lack Balance With Back Four
One of the striking features about Habas’ sides has been the use of the three-man defence with wing-backs. Last season, Prabir Das and Michael Soosairaj wreaked havoc on opposition defences, secure in the knowledge that there was adequate protection at the back. When Soosairaj got injured very early in this campaign, Habas lost a coveted player in an important position. He has mostly used a back four this season to accommodate Subhasish Bose, who is more comfortable in that system. Though Bose was injured for this game, with Sumit Rathi coming in, the Mariners have lost something with the changes they have made. The team lack balance and while they are still reliably solid at the back, there has been a knock-on effect on their attacking transitions. The Spaniard is still producing results, as reflected by ATK Mohun Bagan’s position in the table, but there could be cause for concern as the season enters its business end.
Kerala Blasters 0 – Jamshedpur FC 0
5) Sahal Shows Glimpses Of Talent
He doesn’t score. He doesn’t assist. He doesn’t run. He just doesn’t do enough. This is what has been said about Sahal Abdul Samad ever since he had his breakthrough season in 2018-19. One of the most hyped players to hit the scene in recent years has disappointed far too often for these aspersions to be cast away. He had an extremely average campaign last year with Eelco Schattorie making his thoughts very clear on where the player needed to improve. After a similar start this season, Sahal has put in performances commensurate with his undoubted talent over recent games. With the Blasters missing Facundo Pereyra, Rahul KP and Jeakson Singh, the Keralite took on added responsibility against the Miners and put in a man-of-the-match showing. He has not hit the back of the net since his maiden effort nearly two years ago and only has three assists in his ISL career, but he is running now and, on the night, definitely did enough to run a game for his team.
6) Valskis Increasingly Frustrated
Nerijus Valskis has looked an increasingly unhappy presence of late. No surprise there given that he has only scored in one game out of the previous eight after starting the season so well. After going neck and neck with FC Goa’s Igor Angulo in the Golden Boot race over the first six matchdays, both players have stalled. In the Spaniard’s case, some of that drought could be attributed to a lack of playing time. Valskis plays every game. He believes that the service is not quite up to the mark though and was supposedly incensed when Jackichand Singh was sold to Mumbai midseason. Singh is the Indian midfielder with the most goal contributions in ISL history, but he had not assisted in his last five games for the Miners. The problems run deeper at Jamshedpur and they have had a horrid January. Owen Coyle and his main goal scorer will hope that things turn around next month.
Hyderabad FC 2 – Bengaluru FC 2
7) Nizams Rewarded For Not Giving Up
Aridane Santana clapped his teammates at fulltime, showing appreciation for a never-say-die spirit that could have died easily after Bengaluru took a 2-0 lead midway through the second half. Hyderabad had played very well, especially after the restart and the score line at that time probably did not do justice to the team. After tucking in a cross that deflected kindly for him in the 86th minute, newly available foreign options, Roland Alberg and Fran Sandaza combined in the 90th for the sucker punch. Alberg had intended his effort to be a shot but miskicked it enough to be a perfectly executed assist and the Spaniard had his first goal of the season. It was a fourth consecutive draw for Manuel Roca’s exciting team, but they continued to hold on to the last playoff position.
8) Blues Cannot Buy A Win
One could possibly not place too much blame on the Bengaluru players for this result. Aridane only found an opportunity because the ball took a wicked detour off Parag Srivas and Sandaza’s goal had a touch of fortune to it as well. In the first half especially, they had looked like the Blues of old. Sunil Chhetri looked like his usual self and seemed to have taken offence to Mourtada Fall joining him at the top of the headed goals list the previous week. As always, he outjumped the taller player in Aridane to head in a great freekick by Cleiton Silva. And Leon Augustine justified the faith that Naushad Moosa has placed in him by scoring a beautiful goal with the outside of his right foot. Just when the manager thought he had the win and took Chhetri and Silva out of the firing line, he was dealt a couple of hammer blows. It is now eight games without a win for the 2018-19 champions.
FC Goa 1 – SC East Bengal 1
9) Rustiness Shows For Dheeraj
One of the more recognizable faces from India’s U-17 World Cup squad had disappeared for quite some time. Since making the lucrative move from Kerala to ATK in 2019, his sole appearance had been in last season’s final group stage fixture against Bengaluru. In hindsight, it was a move he probably regrets given Kerala’s goalkeeping woes last year. He would have continued as a starter rather than warm the benches at an admittedly, title winning squad. Mohammad Nawaz’s protracted contract negotiations eventually compelled Goa to go for the talented gloveman. He did not have the best of starts, clearly at fault for East Bengal’s goal, and looked shaky on a couple of other occasions. There is no doubt though that the Manipuri will come good soon and has been bought with an eye on the future.
10) Danny Is A Fox In The Box
The last time Danny Fox scored a professional goal, he was still a Premier League player. In September of 2012, Southampton travelled to the Emirates Stadium and came away on the wrong end of a 1-6 defeat. Fox had a souvenir to show for his brief time in the top-flight though and it looked like he relished his latest effort too. After Narayan Das had done enough to put off Dheeraj, the ball fell kindly for the Scotsman to lash in the equalizer that East Bengal’s performance merited. Bright Enobakhare continues to torment opposition defences with his pace and trickery but when a side have as few efforts on target as the Kolkatan side do, all the buildup play counts for nothing. Robbie Fowler’s side continue to impress but need more wins on the board.
Image Credit – Official Indian Super League Twitter Page