Ah, the ISL. Surprise results, raging controversies, drama around every corner - just the way we like it. Here's how the past week of ISL 2020-21 shaped up.
So that's how you stop ATK Mohun Bagan
Jamshedpur FC took the game to Habas' champions, not allowing them a moment on the ball by pressing high and using fast runners to attack the flanks. Nerijus Valskis' sensational in-the-box movement proved pivotal too as he inspired Jamshedpur to a 2-1 win.
Hyderabad FC, playing with just the two foreigners incidentally, took the game to Habas' champions too in their other match this week. They did too did not allow ATKMB a moment on the ball by pressing high and using fast runners across the front line, eventually riding their luck to hold the defending champions to a 1-1 draw.
There's only so much a parked bus can do against a combination of incisive movement and pure pace -- and that's what Owen Coyle and Manuel Marquez Roca have proved this week.
Oh, a positive side note for those of an ATKMB persuasion -- just how good has Manvir Singh been? His goal against Hyderabad showed all the qualities he has brought to the table this season -- a superb turn of pace, almost insulting directness, and the ability to remain calm and pick the right finish. From an Indian-football-yearning-for-a-top-striker-to-play-with-the-captain point of view, it's a welcome sight.
Bengaluru finding their feet
No, seriously. With the ball on the ground, passing it around slickly (or at least attempting to), there are coherent attacking patterns emerging again. Bengaluru are re-learning the benefits of keeping the ball at their feet. .
Yes, their biggest weapons are still Dimas Delgado's set-pieces and Rahul Bheke's long throws -- hell, they even scored off a Gurpreet Sandhu goal kick -- but they appear capable of posing a threat in open play again. And they're finding the back of the net more frequently -- after scoring three goals in three games in the first two weeks, Bengaluru have nine in five now.
As the season wears on, Carles Cuadrat will hope this uptick in returns is sustainable.
Mumbai City win dirty
And for the rest of the league, that's scary.
The first week saw Sergio Lobera introduce his philosophy to his players, and the second saw his players introduce it to the rest of the league, but this third week showed a different side. For the vast majority of their game against Chennaiyin, they were pummelled. Outpassed and outclassed, they were full of niggly fouls and last ditch, bodies-on-the-line defending. They were lucky with some refereeing decisions, and even luckier with some of Chennaiyin's finishing. And they won 2-1, with two goals off two set-pieces.
It was the kind of win that was missing from Lobera's India CV, and the one big criticism of his time at Goa. If he has well and truly taught himself, and his teams, to grind out wins the hard way, the lead they have on the table currently may well be theirs to keep.
NorthEast United are quite the side
NorthEast United have a little bit of everything. They are defensively solid - Dylan Fox and Benjamin Lambot rocks at centre-back, Khassa Camara immense as a screen. Ahead of them, Lalengmawia (Apuia), Ninthoinganba Meetei (Ninthoi), VP Suhair, and Rochharzela provide pace, penetration and excitement. Up front, Luis Machado, Idrissa Sylla, and Kwesi Appiah have all taken turns to knock in match-winning, or match-saving, goals.
Gerard Nus Casanova has built quite a team here. After six matches, they remain unbeaten and are exceptionally good value for their current second place.
Hope for East Bengal?
No, no, they didn't win. Nor did they score. But they did defend superbly against a dangerous Jamshedpur side, and took home their first point of the campaign. That it came after playing a man down for more than an hour (Eugeneson Lyngdoh was sent off in the 24th minute) emphasizes just how valuable a point that was.
There are still inherent flaws in their football -- the lack of pace in transition, the paucity of chance creation, the nervousness in the opposition third -- but the result may have given Robbie Fowler just what he needed.
From outside, it has looked like Fowler has been trying very hard to build an us-vs-them mentality within his squad. The slightly controversial nature of the officiating combined with the fierce pride that comes from a proper backs-to-the-wall, keep-them-all-out kind of performance might just have done the trick.
Chennaiyin miss the finishing touch
Csabo Laszlo's men are doing a lot of things right. Lallianzuala Chhangte has been sensational down the wings. Jakub Sylvestr's movement is unconventional and hard-to-figure-out. Rafael Crivellaro is always capable of magic with the ball at his feet. Jerry Lalrinzuala looks fit and is showing glimpses of just how good he can be at left-back. Eli Sabia looks solid. Deepak Tangri and Germanpreet Singh are all bite and fight in the middle of the park.
Yet, they are currently eighth with just five points in five, and have scored just the three goals. That's their problem -- their game is superb as long as it's kept away from that final third. Combine that with the occasional defensive lapse and you've got the mess they are in right now.
There is promise there, and the return to full fitness of Anirudh Thapa will help, but Laszlo needs to help his team find their finishing boots if they are to move up the table.
What is that Kerala Blasters defence?
What does not seem promising, though, are Kerala Blasters' prospects. They are playing well enough in the final third, and against Bengaluru their finishing was pretty good. But oh my, that defence.
This week they lost to Bengaluru FC 4-2 and of the 4 they conceded, 3 were a direct result of a defensive lapse. The first came after Lalruatthara cushioned a goal kick into Cleiton Silva's path, the second saw three Bengaluru players totally unmarked (in open play, no less) inside Kerala's six-yard box, and the third came after a rash pass from Albino Gomes that was pounced upon by Silva and finished off by an unmarked Dimas. (The fourth, in case you were wondering, was just down to Sunil Chhetri's brilliance -- sometimes there's nothing you can do). And this after Chhetri made an absolute mess of a panenka penalty attempt.
Kerala have now conceded ten goals in five matches and if Kibu Vicuna can't find a way to iron out these errors, his team will be out of the reckoning before they know it.
"Come on, Referee!"
Penalties not given. Red cards too easily given. Actual red-card offences not spotted. The advantage law forgotten. Offsides being treated as mere suggestions. The quibbles are many, and they are frequent. ISL's referees are once again in the spotlight, and it hasn't taken them long. Managers are either complaining (hello, Mr. Fowler) or are biting their tongue (mostly everyone else) and it's all headed toward a rather ugly public confrontation sometime soon.
Just how do you solve this issue, though?
Getting in foreign referees is short term, and VAR is only as good as the officials manning it. The answer, as with most things, lies in getting to the root of the issue and applying a long-term fix, one that only the Federation is truly capable of doing. They best get going sharpish.