As the new season of Indian Super League (ISL) completes its first week, here are few talking points from the matches:
Goa’s goalkeeping problem
It took 205 minutes for ISL 4 to deliver its first goal of the season. And then within 13 minutes, we had three. At the end of the 90 minutes between FC Goa and Chennayin FC, five goals had hit the net, and Goa walked away with the three points. But the big question the winning team’s coach, Sergio Lobera had to answer was regarding his goalkeeper’s ability between the posts. And he answered it emphatically. "To me, Kattimani is the best goalkeeper in the league, with respect to other custodians. Goalkeepers are always highlighted for mistakes because they are in the spotlight," Lobera said. Which, is, with respect to Laxmikant Kattimani, a serious exaggeration.
Chennayin’s way back into the match was largely thanks to Kattimani’s howlers. His first, a routine catch spilled across the line would’ve made amateur goalkeepers cringe. And the second, conceding a needless penalty from a needless charge, was probably worse. Mistakes can be excused, when they are few and far between, but Kattimani has, over the years, been guilty of too many, too often. He may not be the worst, but he’s definitely not the best, and there will be a time, when Goa’s title credentials will be plagued because of a crucial mistake at the wrong time.
As for Chennayin, John Gregory needs to look hard at himself for this loss. As much as Goa’s win was based on their absolutely superb, flowing, counter-attacking football, it was also based on Gregory’s decision to start with a five-man defence, instead of a loaded midfield to counter Goa’s possession play.
They looked a far better side once they were chasing the game against Goa. Perhaps John Gregory needed to trust his methods and put the team out to play to their strengths at home rather than think too much about their opponents' style of play.
Mumbai miss the magic
Bengaluru FC will be thrilled with their debut in the ISL, but they will also, privately, feel like they should’ve had more. They handed a 2-0 lesson to Mumbai City FC at the Kanteerava Stadium, on a day when their fans, their team and the atmosphere really turned out majestically for the ISL.
From the word go, Bengaluru were in command of the ball and the game. Despite a goalless first half, they had run the visitors ragged, without much to show for it. Mumbai seemed decently organized in defence and much of the credit must go to coach Alexandre Guimaraes who maintained the same in their campaign last year.
However, and this is important, because that was literally all they offered in the game. The absence of midfield lynchpin Matias Defederico and star strikers Sony Norde and Diego Forlan from last season seemed evident as they struggled to thread together moves in the opposition’s third, a fact that Guimares will be hard pressed to find solutions for.
With 17 games yet to be played, Guimares has plenty of time to fix this. He can start of course, by playing Balwant Singh as soon as the forward finds himself fit for the field.
Blasters in the box
Rene Meulensteen enjoyed a successful debut in the ISL opener at Kochi, leading his team to an opening point, a clean sheet at home, and a credible defensive performance against the reigning champions ATK. His focus, in the post match analysis though, lay elsewhere. “We missed the cutting edge in the final third. It's early days, not easy in these circumstances,” he said.
A lot of talk, before the season began, was of Kerala’s front three—Dimitar Berbatov, CK Vineeth and Iain Hume—and the superb quality they would bring in the attacking third. For most of the game though, they never managed to meaningfully link up or impact play directly. A point that wasn’t exactly helped by their waywardness either.
Conclusions cannot be drawn from just one game, but yet some clear cut observations can be made. Meulensteen’s ploy of using Berbatov as a single striker up front is not really going to work, that much is clear. Hume, shunted out left was his usual energetic self, but was struggling to break through a well drilled ATK defence.
Berbatov, for all his skills isn’t a man prone to working the channels to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. It wasn’t surprising to see him drop into the hole for the second half as he looked to see more of the ball. His skill, after, all lies, when he’s on the ball, not off it. For that, Kerala have to see it more often, and unlike what they did against ATK, they need to seize control of the initiative, especially when playing at home.
NorthEast United need to maximise returns at home
After three seasons of watching the ISL, observations dictate that two things are a constant. One: Steve Coppell’s team will always play like a well drilled, boring, long ball, English kind of football when away from home. Two: NorthEast United (NEUFC) will find it tough away from home. Over the course of three seasons, the Highlanders have won four games on the road. Whatever they have achieved in the league has been propelled by their performances at home.
With these two constants intact, it is a real surprise that NEUFC didn’t make more a game of it at Guwahati. In the first half an hour, they displayed guile and skill as players swapped positions, won set-pieces galore and even took some pot shots at goal, but not once did they create clear cut chances to break the deadlock.
It was a pattern that repeated itself for 90 minutes intermittently. NEUFC enjoyed the possession, dictated the play, but had nothing to show for it. Jamshedpur, on the other hand, showed the Coppell hand—shunting the ball long whenever they had an opportunity, instead of playing it short and slowing the pace of the game down.
In the end, this was a case of attack vs a parked bus, more so after Andre Bikey’s needless dismissal. NEUFC will be left to rue this ultimately stale draw.
For Jamshedpur, it was more like one point won than two points lost. The team’s struggle to shift to a plan B will be a major cause of concern for Coppell, who will also have to play without suspended Bikey in the next couple of matches against ATK and Delhi Dynamos.
Kochi is loud, but maybe not enough
The official attendance for Kerala’s opening game against ATK was 37,462, but you could’ve been forgiven for thinking it less than that. One of the mouth-watering clashes of this season’s ISL features the Manjappada army (Kerala’s ultras) against the West Block Blues—Bengaluru FC’s faithful fanatics. From first hand experience, one can safely attest to the fact that at the Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru’s 17,000 odd fans were much louder than their Kerala counterparts.
In fact, it would be unfair to say that the Kerala stadium lacked noise, but, for every time the crowd roared when the Blasters’ went on an attack (few and far between), there were periods of silence as ATK laid into their goal. When you have 40,000 odd supporters in a stadium, you never expect a pin drop silence (except at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal’s library of course).
The hardworking members of the Manjappada group have come up with an app for fans to keep up with updates, but developing a fan culture like Bengaluru’s is going to be a little more difficult. One of the big problems of course is in the very thing that makes them stronger: the numbers. Not everyone who attends the match is a Manjappada member or even a Kerala Blasters supporter, and for them, the match is a pleasant 'cultural experience' for the evening. Unfortunately, football matches aren’t always meant for peaceful experiences, and the Kochi Stadium, is for not for newbies.
Even in a dull goalless game like the one against ATK, the Blasters would’ve been expected to raise the roof off the place. Maybe, this was just a warm-up and the real noise is yet to come.
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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2017 17:16:40 IST