As the chill of the winter sets in in India, matters have just started to heat up in the Indian Super League. The fifth week of the nation's top-flight competition had some tasty clashes in store at either ends of the table. Looking back at the action-packed week, it would be fair to say that most of the anticipated match-ups lived up to their billing.
However, it only made matters more complicated as far as the standings are concerned with three teams locked in on 12 points at the top, and not much separating the chasing pack.
With all still very much to play for, the ISL's fifth round of matches helped little in establishing a concrete pecking order, but threw up some noteworthy trends and performances.
As teams recharge their batteries ahead of another grueling week of action, here's a look at the takeaways from Week 5 of of the ISL.
Giants get up and running
Heading into the fifth week, only two teams had failed to register a victory in the season thus far. The sides, ironically, were finalists in two of the previous three campaigns. Defending champions ATK and last year's runners-up Kerala Blasters were among pre-tournament favourites, and expected to hit the ground running after quality acquisitions in pre-season. However, both teams endured a rough start to the campaign with no wins in the opening four encounters. That changed as ATK and the Blasters recorded their maiden wins of the season in identical fashion.
Apart from a 1-0 scoreline, both sides had to dig deep to seal their first three points of the campaign as their respective opponents put them under severe pressure. The Blasters finally gave the home fans something to cheer about when they edged NorthEast United after three successive stalemates on home turf. Adding icing to the cake, crowd favourite CK Vineeth got on to the scoresheet for the first time, much to the home fans' delight.
ATK, though, deserve much more credit for their first success of the campaign as they achieved it at a place where two of the current top-three sides have left empty-handed. Facing a Mumbai City side who have made the Mumbai Football Arena a bit of a fortress in the past year or so, ATK did well to negate the home side's physicality and impose themselves on the game. Goalkeeper Debjit Majumder had to be on his toes to see off a late Mumbai rally, but Teddy Sheringham's men did well to notch their maiden win of the season. After getting their first tastes of victories, can these two clubs climb up the charts and stake their claim for the top-four slots?
Being on the road in the ISL may not be a thing teams fancy with long distances and changes in weather taking their toll. But in Week 5, none of that seemed to be a problem. Out of the five games played, four resulted in victories for the away sides. Kerala Blasters were the only home side to emerge triumphant this week, with other sides suffering on their own patch.
Bengaluru FC started the week with a fine away win against in-form FC Pune City, FC Goa's trip to the north to face Delhi Dynamos proved to be very fruitful as the Gaurs emerged 5-1 winners. Sunday's double-headers also saw the visiting sides claim crucial wins to make it a torrid week for teams playing at home. Perhaps, the attempt to make the most of the home advantage put added pressure on the hosts, allowing the away sides to flourish.
Looking at the entire season, there have been 12 away victories compared to just 10 for the home teams. The stat may just point to a home discomfort instead of an advantage, and Week 5 further underlined why it might not be such a bad thing to be on the road in the ISL.
Late goals! Every fan of the beautiful game is in awe of those strikes at the death that turn contests on their heads. Week 5 of the ISL saw plenty of them.
Seven out of the 15 goals scored during the week came in the final 15 minutes of matches. While not all were directly decisive, it led to plenty of drama in the dying stages of the games.
The game between FC Goa and Delhi Dynamos was on a knife's edge with the Gaurs leading 2-1. The league leaders, though, went up a gear and banged in three goals before the full-time whistle to make it an emphatic 5-1 victory.
Bengaluru FC were at both ends of the late goals in their two games during their week. The Blues wore 10-man FC Pune City down with their late strikes at the Balewadi Stadium on Thursday, but a late winner from Chennaiyin's Dhanpal Ganesh, minutes after Sunil Chhetri's equaliser in the Sunday clash at the Kanteerava, led to the Blues' first home loss on the season. Even in the other games that didn't see late goals, there were plenty of chances that weren't taken.
This trend of games opening up at the end points to teams struggling to maintain their intensity in the dying stages. Managers must look to address the issue in weeks to come, when the need for points is certain to increase.
Free-scoring FC Goa a joy to watch
FC Goa find themselves on the top of the ISL charts ahead of Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin, despite playing a game less. Having the same number of points as the other two, it is the Gaurs superior goal difference that separates them from the rest. On Saturday, Sergio Lobera's men pumped five past a hapless Delhi Dynamos side. It was for the fourth game running the Goa side had scored four or more goals.
The Gaurs have scored 18 times and shot 66 times this season. Their numbers are more than any other team in the league, especially their closest competitors, despite playing a game less. To put their attacking flair in perspective, FC Goa have scored just three goals fewer than the bottom-six teams combined.
Managed by a former coach at Barcelona, FC Goa's possession-based football has drawn plenty of eyeballs. However it's the end product that's made their style of play even more attractive. With the likes of Ferran Corominas, Manuel Lanzarote and Manuel Arana in red-hot form, FC Goa may be favourites to extend their scoring spree in weeks to come.
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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2017 10:34:10 IST