ISL 2021-22 Stories: Bengaluru FC show promise, Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters FC continue ascent

The week gone by also saw a few games being postponed due to the surge in COVID-19 cases but when the players had a chance to showcase their skills, they didn’t disappoint.

Shashwat Kumar January 18, 2022 09:33:44 IST
ISL 2021-22 Stories: Bengaluru FC show promise, Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters FC continue ascent

Bengaluru FC pushed on the accelerator against Mumbai City FC at the start and rarely contemplated retreating into their shell. Image Courtesy: @bengalurufc

Another week of the Indian Super League has flown by and as always, there were plenty of talking points to discuss. A few games couldn’t go ahead due to the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases but when the players had a chance to showcase their skills, they didn’t disappoint.

Bengaluru FC produced one of their most complete performances this season as they trounced Mumbai City FC 3-0. FC Goa, on the other hand, were left ruing their missed opportunities as they settled for a 1-1 draw against NorthEast United FC.

Jamshedpur FC and the Kerala Blasters FC, meanwhile, continued their ascent to the top of the table, with Odisha FC, a week after an amazing result against Mumbai City FC, crashing down to earth against the Blasters.

Without further ado, here is a look at how the week unfolded:

ISL 202122 Stories Bengaluru FC show promise Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters FC continue ascent

Bengaluru FC pushed on the accelerator against Mumbai City FC at the start and rarely contemplated retreating into their shell. Image Courtesy: @bengalurufc

Bengaluru FC show how good they can be

Till a month ago, this fixture (Bengaluru FC vs Mumbai City FC) would’ve been billed as one between a side trampling every other opposition in its wake against a team that were finding ways to spurn winning opportunities.

But with the contrasting trajectories both teams have trodden in the past few weeks, it became a contest of two equals. Not just because Bengaluru FC have been improving constantly, but also because the Islanders find themselves in a rather sticky patch.

From that particular standpoint, this performance against the defending champions would’ve pleased Marco Pezzaiuoli significantly. Bengaluru FC pushed on the accelerator at the start and rarely contemplated retreating into their shell. So much so that they entered half-time with a 3-0 lead in their kitty, with their high-octane, high-intensity style causing Mumbai City FC all sorts of problems.

The more promising bit, though, would’ve been the clean sheet the Blues kept. Before the game against the Islanders, they’d done so only once this season (a drab 0-0 draw against Jamshedpur FC). This one, however, was achieved despite Mumbai City FC incessantly probing for openings. In simpler words, this was the kind of display reiterating that Bengaluru FC can keep things tight at the back.

The positive result against the defending champions was also accomplished without any sizeable contribution by Sunil Chhetri, indicating that the 2018-19 ISL champions are perhaps finding a way to function without their talisman. While that isn’t very encouraging for a footballer who has defined the club during its existence, it is a refreshing sight for those longing for Bengaluru FC to compete for the top four.

As things stand, the Blues look as entertaining and as resourceful a side as any. However, their early season form also means that they have a mountain to climb. Usually this season, such enterprising outings have been followed by more mundane showings. But if Bengaluru FC can buck that particular trend, they could be a thorn in many clubs’ sides.

FC Goa need a prolific goal-scorer

For much of the last campaign, FC Goa banked on Igor Angulo to decisively tilt the scales in their favour. The Spaniard has since left for Mumbai City FC, meaning that a gaping hole has been created. More alarmingly, though, the Gaurs haven’t found someone to plug it yet.

Against NorthEast United FC, FC Goa created a plethora of chances. Alexander Jesuraj was responsible for three of those, with Airan Cabrera, Glan Martins and Princeton Rebello fashioning a couple of chances apiece. Alberto Noguera, as has often been the case this campaign, was the star of the show and created six chances.

For all that endeavour however, the Gaurs could make the net bulge only once —  that too from a corner. Cabrera, whose lack of goal-scoring and run-in with injuries has been well-documented, got the goal. But it only acted as an intermittent tonic to an ailment that has plagued FC Goa for a considerable amount of time.

Defensively, the Gaurs weren’t at their best. Their inclination to hog possession left them open to counter-attacking situations. That, however, is a non-negotiable as far as FC Goa are concerned. They have previously proclaimed that they won’t budge on their free-flowing brand of football, even if it means giving up chances.

From that standpoint, you feel they need a difference-maker at the other end who can mask their defensive shortcomings. Jorge Ortiz has slowly begun finding his feet and Cabrera has popped up with the odd goal too. Yet, a tally of 15 goals in 11 games (they have conceded 19, by the way) isn’t befitting of a side that is sculpting as many opportunities as FC Goa.

The January transfer window usually offers stop-gap solutions but at this juncture, any kind of solution would be welcomed by the Gaurs.

ISL 202122 Stories Bengaluru FC show promise Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters FC continue ascent

Jamshedpur FC's defence against SC East Bengal looked compact. Image Courtesy: @JamshedpurFC

Jamshedpur FC’s ascent continues; SC East Bengal’s all-Indian eleven impresses

In their two most recent encounters, Jamshedpur FC have looked a little exhausted, they’ve lacked the zeal that you usually associate with them and have had problems breaking down defences — something that didn’t happen for much of the opening exchanges.

But, like all good teams do, they’ve found ways to win games of football. Ishan Pandita, who scored a lot of point-saving and match-winning goals at FC Goa last season, has risen to the fore in past couple of weeks.

Their defence, especially against SC East Bengal, looked compact. That, though, could be down to the lack of quality in the latter’s ranks. The Red Miners also looked solid in the middle third but their inability to create chances would’ve been a cause for concern.

They enjoyed a lion’s share of possession (63 percent to be precise) but only had a pass accuracy percentage of 63 percent - again, something that tells you the Red Miners might be losing a bit of steam.

Yet, as long as they keep winning, Owen Coyle might not really mind. The worry, though, could be of the dipping standards. The Englishman usually sets the record straight and expects his players to adhere to every minute bit of detail.

And, if this becomes a pattern between now and the end of the season, he might just have to think about a way to rejuvenate what is looking an increasingly jaded squad.

SC East Bengal, on the other hand, have looked reinvigorated since Manolo Diaz’s departure. Against Jamshedpur FC, Renedy Singh (interim manager) opted for an all-Indian playing eleven and to an extent, was vindicated as his charges kept the Red Miners at bay for almost the entirety of this contest.

Under ordinary circumstances, this was the sort of fixture that would inject wind into any side’s sails and act as the perfect launchpad for a turnaround. In fact, no team before SC East Bengal had ever deployed an all-Indian eleven in the ISL. But they find themselves so far behind the rest of the pack that it could act as a mere consolation in what promises to be another season of mediocrity.

Kerala Blasters continue climbing up the table; Mumbai City FC slip further

A lot can change in football in a couple of months and that adage has been proved right by the Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City FC since December. Back then, the Islanders were the all-conquering force and the Blasters were still working their way around a new regime. All it took for a sway in fortunes, though, was a commanding 3-0 Kerala Blasters victory over the defending champions.

So much so that the Kerala Blasters FC are the team placed comfortably in the upper echelons of the points table and Mumbai City FC are being carved open in every match they play.

While the Kerala Blasters have stumbled upon a formula that has seen them concede just six goals since their opening encounter against ATK Mohun Bagan, the Islanders have shipped 13 goals in their last five goals. And for what it’s worth, they have only collected two points during that sequence.

Up front too, the Blasters seem to be devising new methods to put the opposition rear-guard under pressure. Alvaro Vazquez has shown that his game isn’t just reliant on goal-scoring, Roberto Pereyra Diaz has been the perfect foil and Adrian Luna keeps evoking collective gasps with his footballing ability. Oh, by the way, Harmanjot Khabra Jeakson Singh, Puitea and Sahal Abdul Samad haven’t been bad either.

On the other hand, Mumbai City FC’s potency has taken a hit. There is a sense of predictability attached to their style and while having a clear identity isn’t a crime, the fact that they’ve not been able to score as many as they’ve conceded is a worry.

In fact, had their game on Sunday gone ahead, it could’ve had drastic implications on what remains of this campaign. A Mumbai City FC victory would’ve made them believe that the string of defeats were a blip on the road. Conversely, a Kerala Blasters FC win would’ve told the rest of the league that they, rather than the Islanders, are now the team to beat in the ISL.

ISL 202122 Stories Bengaluru FC show promise Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters FC continue ascent

ATK Mohun Bagan have had their two games postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak in their camp. Image Courtesy: @atkmohunbaganfc

Let’s hope everyone is safe in the ISL bio-bubble

The past couple of weeks have seen the novel COVID-19 break into the ISL bio-bubble. ATK Mohun Bagan, in particular, have been hampered twice and have had two games postponed on the bounce. And, if word of mouth is to be believed, there could be a few more cases in other teams’ camps as the rescheduling of the Kerala Blasters FC-Mumbai City FC, and the Hyderabad FC-Jamshedpur FC matches suggest.

In the midst of the COVID-19 surge, though, is another very important issue – an issue that simply can’t be ignored. Mental health has finally been acknowledged as a problem and you can only imagine what the players must be going through, knowing what is happening in the rest of the country (more so for Indian footballers) and being boxed in their hotel rooms.

Edu Bedia and Sunil Chhetri have been two individuals who have spoken out regarding the challenges they are facing in the bio-bubble. While Edu hinted that football has become a business and that the footballers have been reduced to mere pawns, Chhetri opened up on how he was willing to lend a hand to whoever required it.

In a nutshell, that tells you things aren’t quite right in the bio-bubble. The players are still putting up a brave face and trying to compete but that, as most would testify, is increasingly becoming the fulfilling of an obligation rather than a genuine attempt to enjoy the sport they love.

From the outside, it is very tough to decipher what these footballers are feeling at the moment. The best that we can do as a community is perhaps empathize with them and hope that everyone is safe in the ISL bio-bubble.

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