The fifth week of ISL 2020-21 was lighter than usual, with the teams getting offs for Christmas and Christmas Eve, but that didn't mean we suffered a dearth of drama, excitement or large spells of 'meh, this is boring' football.
Who dares wins
The British SAS say so, and it would appear, so does Kibu Vicuna. After stealing a point at SC East Bengal last week, Vicuna decided to shuffle things up. A cleanse, as it were. Now, the thing is, when foreign coaches decide they want change, especially in this league, it's usually the Indians who are rotated. Vicuna, though, decided to drop his two big-name centre backs Costa Nhamoinesu and Bakary Kone, and his even bigger name striker Gary Hooper for this week's outing against Hyderabad.
And it worked.
Abdul Hakku and Jordan Murray, two of the replacements for the big three, scored. The all-Indian defence looked solid. Jeakson Singh was superb in the middle of the park. Sahal Abdul Samad showed those frustrating little glimpses of his genius. Rahul KP was fun. And in their seventh match of the 2020-21 season, Kerala Blasters finally won a match.
Kibu Vicuna dared, Kibu Vicuna won. This column has a lot of time for that.
BFC too easy for ATK Mohun Bagan
ATK Mohun Bagan vs. Bengaluru FC had the week's top billing, and rightly so. They were both on a decent run of form, second and third in the table with just one point separating them, and it should have been a close, tight contest.
It was not.
When Pranoy Halder can go through 73 minutes of a football game without committing a single foul, you know you haven't given his team any kind of problem. ATKMB continue to look like the real deal. BFC continue to look like a pale imitation of their old dominant selves. With Ashique Kuruniyan likely out for the season (he is back home in Kerala, recovering after surgery to address the fractures to his face), Carles Cuadrat has a major headache to solve and very little time to do it in.
Odisha and East Bengal show fight
Stuart Baxter and Robbie Fowler may be at opposite ends of the experience-in-management spectrum (35th year in management vs. 2nd) but they find themselves pretty close together at the bottom of the ISL table. Both have had poor starts to the campaign and while they remain the managers of the only two sides in the league yet to register a win, they will find a measure of solace in this week's performances.
Odisha led, then conceded two, before drawing back level against NorthEast United. SC East Bengal fell behind twice against Chennaiyin, and rallied both times to equalise. They may have gotten just a point each, but these were the kind of games they were losing without a whimper just a couple of weeks ago.
There is much to be improved on the field (the defensive organisation, for instance), and probably off it for both teams -- but for now their fans can take comfort in the knowledge that their players (and coaches) continue to fight for the cause. For now.
'Oh My God!' is probably the politest exclamation that Csaba Laszlo has uttered this season. No team in the league seem able to create as many chances as his Chennaiyin -- they appear to do it on almost every other attack. No team in the league miss as many chances as his Chennaiyin -- and this is not poetic exaggeration. Chennaiyin have missed 10 big chances in seven games this season, no one has missed more.
Lallianzuala Chhangte, who scored this week, has often been guilty of some of the more spectacular of these misses, but no one has done it as consistently as Jakub Sylvestr. He has the worst differential between expected goals (3.99) and actual goals scored (1) in the whole league. That's -2.99 for those counting. -2.99!
1- @ChennaiyinFC's Jakub Sylvestr is the only player to have taken a minimum 15 shots in this season of @IndSuperLeague & register just 1 goal. He has missed 5 big chances. Aridane Santana & @NValskis have 4 & 6 goals respectively from 15 shots. Contrasting. #SCEBCFC #HeroISL
- OptaJeev (@OptaJeev) December 26, 2020
Laszlo's Chennaiyin are brilliant to watch - fun, chaotic, always attacking. But what really is the point if you cannot put the ball in the back of the net? They need to start scoring at better than their current goal-a-game, or mid-table mediocrity awaits.
Referees and fine margins
It's the 87th minute of Jamshedpur FC vs. FC Goa. The score's 1-1. Jamshedpur's Alex Lima picks up the ball from the edge of the box and smashes it at goal -- the ball bounces off the underside of the crossbar, quite clearly crosses over the goalline into the goal, and bounces back into play. Mohammad Nawaz catches it, and the referee waves play on. Seven minutes later, Igor Angulo makes it 2-1 Goa.
This is a game of fine margins, and a referee not seeing a ball crossing a foot into the goal means Goa lead Jamshedpur by a point on the table.
"We were robbed," Owen Coyle would fume after the match and considering that they were the better side for vast swathes (subjectively speaking) and a key refereeing error (objectively speaking), it's hard to disagree.
Player of The Week - David Williams
David Williams often goes under the radar just because he's not Roy Krishna, but when Williams is in form, ATK and now ATK Mohun Bagan, do well. Not just grind out wins, but actually play well. He's a ceaselessly probing threat who often has the freedom of the park and the ability to use it to maximum effect. Like he did against Bengaluru FC. He was everywhere, menacing and purposeful.
Also, considering this is a completely subjective pick based on the whims of this column, it helps when you score absolute belters that win games at the top end of the table. And boy, was it a belter -- one touch to kill Carl McHugh's long ball dead, six more to create space just inside the box of the league's toughest defence, an eighth to smash it past the best keeper in the land. A doff of the hat to you, Mr. Williams.