ISL 2021-22 stories: Jorge Ortiz keeps FC Goa in the hunt, Mumbai City FC lack usual oomph

Another week has flown by and it has, like always, provided plenty of talking points. The biggest was perhaps Mumbai City FC’s humbling against Odisha FC and Kerala Blasters’ rise to the top of the points table not far behind.

Shashwat Kumar January 10, 2022 12:56:33 IST
ISL 2021-22 stories: Jorge Ortiz keeps FC Goa in the hunt, Mumbai City FC lack usual oomph

In the match against NorthEast United FC, Jamshedpur FC had 21 shots on goal, of which 8 hit the target. Yet, it lacked the zip that you usually associate with them. Image Courtesy: @JamshedpurFC

A change in year usually brings about a change in fortunes but the 2021-22 season of the Indian Super League is showing no signs of slowing down. Another week has flown by and it has, like always, provided plenty of talking points.

The biggest was perhaps Mumbai City FC’s humbling against Odisha FC, with the Kerala Blasters’ rise to the top of the points table not far behind. Jamshedpur FC also racked up another victory, whereas FC Goa scraped past Chennaiyin FC.

SC East Bengal had to endure another game-week without three points, while ATK Mohun Bagan and Hyderabad FC shared the spoils in a pulsating encounter.

Without further ado, here is a look at the week gone by:

ISL 202122 stories Jorge Ortiz keeps FC Goa in the hunt Mumbai City FC lack usual oomph

In the match against NorthEast United FC, Jamshedpur FC had 21 shots on goal, of which 8 hit the target. Yet, it lacked the zip that you usually associate with them. Image Courtesy: @JamshedpurFC

Jamshedpur FC win but are they running out of steam?

In isolation, this might not be the smartest question to ask, especially after Jamshedpur FC’s last-gasp victory against NorthEast United FC. But, when considering how the Red Miners usually operate at more than a hundred miles per hour, it becomes quite pertinent.

In the match against NorthEast United FC, Jamshedpur FC had 21 shots on goal, of which 8 hit the target. Yet, it lacked the zip that you usually associate with them. They scored three goals too but each stemmed from a NorthEast United FC mistake, rather than the Red Miners carving open the opposition rear-guard.

To an extent, Jamshedpur FC are perhaps feeling the after-effects of a grueling season and their non-negotiable high-octane style of football. It could also be that they require an injection of freshness, especially after Nerijus Valskis’ departure.

Jordan Murray, who scored against the Highlanders, is a decent replacement but isn’t someone who has complemented Greg Stewart, meaning that the Scottish forward has had to shoulder a massive burden.

Their midfield also seems very static, especially against teams that are willing to defend with a low block – the games against Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United FC being perfect examples. Defensively, Peter Hartley is making errors, whereas they seem a little too exposed on the break, especially when Alex Lima isn’t at his best.

At the moment, much of Jamshepdur FC’s success has boiled down to individual brilliance, which considering their team chemistry in the early part of the season, is an ominous caveat.

And, unless they can regain the levels they produced at the start of the season, you might not be wrong in asking if they are indeed running out of steam.

What’s wrong with Mumbai City FC?

A few weeks ago, Mumbai City FC were scoring for fun, they were thrashing opponents and were winning even when they weren’t at their best. For a part of that streak, they were conceding goals but that wasn’t enough to upset their rhythm elsewhere.

But since the match against the Kerala Blasters, something seems to have broken down. The Islanders have lacked their usual oomph, have been too open defensively and haven’t been able to control the middle third as they would’ve liked.

There have been patches where they have outlined their brilliance – the first half against Odisha FC being a perfect example. But that has hardly been enough to mask over other deficiencies that have crept into their game.

Their high-pressing seems to have taken a backseat as well. Their forward play, especially against SC East Bengal, looked very tentative and for the first time in a while, they fired a blank.

As things stand, they have conceded 10 goals in their four most recent encounters, which, by the way, includes a rudderless goal-less draw against SC East Bengal. That alone tells you how sharply the Islanders’ levels have dipped in the past few weeks.

The silver lining, though, is that the only trajectory henceforth is upwards, and Mumbai City FC have more than enough quality to turn things around. It’s just that this campaign, which felt like a cakewalk at times in the early phases, has become a tad complicated.

When Des Buckingham stepped into Sergio Lobera’s shoes, he knew what he was getting into. Now, he has first-hand experience of maintaining the standards Mumbai City FC have set for themselves lately. But if any team can get it right, it is the Islanders.

ISL 202122 stories Jorge Ortiz keeps FC Goa in the hunt Mumbai City FC lack usual oomph

Considering how the rest of the season has unfolded for Odisha FC, a solitary win – that too against the Islanders, should be considered a dream week. Image Courtesy: @OdishaFC

Dream week for Odisha FC

In an ideal world, Odisha FC would’ve wanted to put together two consecutive victories against the league’s biggest hitters (ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC).

They accomplished half of that task but the emergence of a COVID-19 case in the Mariners’ ranks led to the postponement of that fixture. Yet, considering how the rest of their season has unfolded, a solitary win – that too against the Islanders, should be considered a dream week.

There were plenty of other positives as well. Jerry Mawihmingthanga, who has since been named club captain, terrorised the Mumbai City FC defence and had them on toast throughout. Jonathas also snapped his relatively barren run in front of goal as the Juggernauts thumped four goals past the defending champions.

Odisha FC showed the right intent from the outset, made the most of their scoring opportunities and ran themselves into the ground. In a nutshell, this performance was reminiscent of everything good they did at the start of the season. And, if they can continue in a similar vein, they could cause quite a few problems. That, though, seems an enormous ‘if’ at the moment.

Such outings have usually been followed by more timid displays, and if that is to continue, the result against the Islanders will only be a glorious aberration. Remember, the Juggernauts were thumped by Hyderabad FC just days before.

But they at least have something to build upon now. That’s better than nothing, isn’t it?

Jorge Ortiz keeps FC Goa in the hunt; Chennaiyin FC need more

The fixture between Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa was the archetypal mid-season game — lacking in tempo, often lacking in quality and highlighting that both teams were feeling the effects of a jam-packed campaign.

Just as the game was meandering to a drab stalemate, though, Jorge Ortiz rose to the fore and with a wave of the left boot, secured three points for the Gaurs.

In essence, this is how scrappy games of football are won — either via a moment of magic or via a moment of madness. Fortunately for FC Goa, they have started making a habit of producing the former – an attribute that should keep them in good stead.

Apart from that, there seemed to be much better defensive organisation. They were caught on the break at times but it wasn’t reminiscent of their early-season woes when opposition attackers had the freedom of their defensive third.

The Alberto Noguera-Glan Martins-Edu Bedia central axis also seems to be working well, whereas Anwar Ali’s seamless initiation into the ISL would’ve pleased them considerably. Thus, FC Goa, despite the initial gloom, might still be in the hunt, especially as those above them refuse to pull away.

Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, looked relatively toothless against the Gaurs. Nerijus Valskis made his first start (on his second coming) but was unable to inspire a victory. Mirlan Murzaev also ran his socks off but lacked the requisite quality. The Marina Machans’ inclination to bench Lallianzuala Chhangte also remains a conundrum.

More worryingly, though, Chennaiyin FC seem to have only one gear. They sit back and hope that spaces open up at the other end. But when they can’t keep things tight, they struggle to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.

The Marina Machans have displayed a lot of qualities through this season and their dogged determination and defensive organisation has won many hearts. Yet, if they are to make a proper fist of the ISL, you feel they need a little more offensively.

ISL 202122 stories Jorge Ortiz keeps FC Goa in the hunt Mumbai City FC lack usual oomph

Kerala Blasters haven’t lost since the opening day of the season, have scored 14 goals and conceded six goals in that period, and have defeated the likes of Hyderabad FC and Mumbai City FC. Image Courtesy: @KeralaBlasters

Kerala Blasters enter paradise; Hyderabad FC not too far behind

Before a ball had been kicked this season, the Kerala Blasters faithful would’ve been scared of predicting where their side would end up. The past couple of campaigns hadn’t gone according to script and there was a feeling that they would underwhelm again.

The fans’ worst fears, though, haven’t materialised because the Kerala Blasters have been terrific. They haven’t lost since the opening day of the season, have scored 14 goals and conceded six goals in that period, and have defeated the likes of Hyderabad FC and Mumbai City FC. This, by the way, is also the best sequence of games they have put together in the ISL. Ever.

In their most recent game, they were excellent defensively. They almost always found themselves in the right place to clear the danger and were effervescent on the counter attack. Their front four, in particular, caused Hyderabad FC all sorts of problems, with Alvaro Vazquez producing the winner.

By virtue of that, they have claimed the perch of the table. An accomplishment that they were afraid of even imagining has now come to fruition. More importantly, though, it comes on the back of one of their more indifferent displays against FC Goa.

Thus, this could be the year when everything clicks together for the Kerala Blasters. Their fans might still want to utter those golden words in hushed tones, but they have, well and truly, screamed to the rest of the league that they mean business.

Hyderabad FC, on the other hand, aren’t too far behind. They rejoiced their ascent to the top of the table after a stalemate against ATK Mohun Bagan, although that attracted its fair share of criticism.

Manolo Marquez, cleared the air and emphasized that his side won’t settle for these small victories and that the outpouring of emotion was only because of what they had achieved for the first time in the club’s history.

On the back of those comments, a defeat to the Kerala Blasters wasn’t ideal. Yet, this wasn’t a game where they were run ragged. Instead, it was a fixture where they just couldn’t apply the finishing touches to promising attacking moves.

The league table might coldly reflect a defeat but this encounter has reiterated the distance Hyderabad FC still have to traverse – all while illustrating that they aren’t very far from doing so.

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