The Indian Super League's (ISL) business end is fast approaching and after 12 rounds, the early pace-setters have now earmarked themselves as the favorites for the competition, keeping the chasing pack at an arm's length throughout the course of the competition.
Yet with just seven more weeks to go for the league stage to end, the pecking order that's hardly been disturbed throughout the campaign remains far from being cemented. There are still at least 21 points to fight for for every team and with the league leader only managing 24 points thus far, there is still time for teams lower down the table to script a turnaround in fortunes.
The latest round of games that once again saw no draws — just like the previous two weeks — might have given the table a bit of shape. With teams edging their opponents out in Week 12, the top three consolidated their position, the bottom three slipped closer to the abyss of elimination and the mid-table got cramped like never before.
FC Goa leave the door open
Every time FC Goa enter the field in the ISL, entertainment is a given. So are the goals. Playing an expansive, at times almost extravagant style of football under the management of former Barcelona youth coach Sergio Lobera, the Gaurs took the league by storm with their attacking flair. Their flamboyance meant the 2015 runners-up had admirers far beyond the west-Indian state.
At the start, FC Goa were tipped to dazzle and dominate, but there was another side to the story, that often stopped the rampaging Gaurs in their tracks. Sunday evening's clash against Mumbai City FC at the Fatorda stadium was a case in point. As irresistible as FC Goa were in attack, they remained extremely vulnerable at the back, allowing the opportunistic Mumbai to cash in. The visitors won the encounter 4-3 against a 10-man Goa side to move to within two points of the fourth-placed Gaurs.
For all the staggering numbers going forward, Goa's defensive statistics are equally alarming. Despite being fourth in the table, FC Goa have conceded 21 goals, the second-most by any side in the league and are the only team in the competition not to have kept a clean sheet.
Goa have allowed an average of 5.45 shots on target every game. Their fellow top four sides have conceded almost a shot less per game (Bengaluru FC - 4.25; Chennaiyin FC - 4.08; FC Pune City - 4.67). Lobera will be keen to make his side defensively more prudent in weeks to come, especially with Jamshedpur FC only behind them on goal difference.
Change at the helm, but no change in fortunes for ATK
The week started on a sour note as defending champions ATK gave manager Teddy Sheringham his marching orders after another listless display in a 3-0 defeat against FC Pune City. The Kolkata club placed assistant Ashley Westwood in charge hoping to spark a turnaround that would bring ATK back in contention for a place in the semi-finals. However, the Englishman struggled to trigger an upturn in fortunes last week as his team went down against Chennaiyin and Jamshedpur at home, to find themselves seven points adrift of fourth-placed Goa.
The defending champions have recorded just three wins in 12 games wherein they have found the back of the net only on eight occasions. This struggle for goals has derailed any attempt to revive their title defense and the latest endeavor of doing so by making a change at the helm doesn't seem to be working either. Unless a miraculous recovery takes place in the remaining games, ATK's season appears to be heading towards a premature end.
Semi-final chasing pack show signs of fight
Mumbai City FC showed no signs of throwing in the towel after emerging triumphant in the seven-goal thriller at FC Goa and same can be said of the fellow members of the chasing pack scrapping for a place in the semi-finals of the ISL.
Despite trailing twice in the game, Mumbai City FC continued to exploit Goa's defensive vulnerabilities and were rewarded for the same. After Goa went down to ten men, Mumbai displayed tenacity to eke out a late victory. In another game, Kerala Blasters who have been slightly revitalised by the arrival of David James as their new manager came from behind to beat Delhi Dynamos. Last year's runners-up are now just 2 points behind Goa, but have played two extra games.
Jamshedpur FC moved level on points with the Gaurs after a hard-fought victory at ATK . The men from the steel city put in another defensive masterclass to come away with all three points. Jamshedpur have now won three of their last five matches and look capable of producing a late tilt for a semi-final spot. FC Goa's inconsistent form of late will offer hope to these sides who have done well to hang on to their coat tails.
A week of fine margins
Round 12 of ISL had no draws. All games were won or lost by a solitary goal. The teams that emerged victorious toiled hard to acquire full points. In four out of the six encounters, teams had to claw their way from behind to record victories.
At the fag end of the season, it's this extra effort that teams put in to convert a draw into a win that could prove to be decisive. The top four teams have separated themselves from the rest by doing exactly that, and week 12 was no different. Pune responded with two goals against the league's strongest defence to achieve the victory, while Chennaiyin overcame a group of players trying hard to impress their new manager. Bengaluru FC too were pegged back by NorthEast United and needed the class of Sunil Chhetri to get over the line. The top three aren't just a step above the rest in terms of points, but also in class and form.
With the semi-final chasing teams also recording narrow wins during this week of fine margins, the gains were big for the winners.
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Updated Date: Jan 29, 2018 20:15:55 IST