The ISL is hitting its stride now as it completes a month of action, and as ever, there's plenty to discuss.
Jamshedpur have another big week
After a win and a draw last week, Owen Coyle and his charges continued their good run of results in what has been a pretty hectic opening to the season for them. They battled to a win over the new-look, gritty NorthEast United, and they took a point off a rampant Mumbai City. The latter result was even more impressive considering they played for an hour plus with just ten men after Aitor Monroy had two very quick brain fades.
Coyle is doing exactly what he did at Chennaiyin last time around -- building his attack around the talents of Nerijus Valskis, using the incisive running of Indian wingers (in this case, Jackichand Singh and Aniket Jadhav/William Lalnunfela), a solid midfield in Mobashir Rahman, Alex Lima and Monroy/Isaac Vanmalsawma, and a defence marshalled by two giants in Stephen Eze and Peter Hartley. Throw in a goalkeeper in the form of his life in TP Rehenesh and you can see why Jamshedpur are a good bet for a playoff spot.
If only we could see a bit more of Amarjit Singh...
1-0 to ATK Mohun Bagan. Again.
They are mind-numbingly boring to watch most of the time. They will grind their opponent, and you with them, to oblivion most of the time. Roy Krishna will score most of the time. And they will win most of the time.
At the end of the day, Antonio Habas cares about just that last bit, and if the trophies keep coming, just how much will the fans mind it?
They are second on the table now, and on Monday face the team just below them -- fellow will-grind-out-a-result-no-matter-what specialists Bengaluru FC. It's the kind of match that is somehow both a must-not-miss and must-really-miss.
Chennaiyin vs. Goa should be the template
At the polar opposite of the excitement spectrum are Chennaiyin. You look at their goals scored column, see 'five', and think 'pshaw! Five goals in six games? Boring!" but then you see them play. You see, what the table can't possibly show you is just how many chances they create, and just how good those chances are. By official accounts, that number (big chances) is at 10, but it feels close to 1246. They are pedal-to-the-metal from minute one, and there's just excitement every time they get the ball.
And this week they met the perfect opponent in FC Goa. Another team who'd much rather attack than sit back and soak pressure and hope to hit on the counter.
While it ended in a tame-sounding 2-1 win to Chennaiyin, the match itself was an end-to-end affair that could have been anything from 7-1 in Chennaiyin's favour to 4-3 in Goa's.
All-out-attack vs. all-out-attack may give a few purists headaches, but for the neutral, it's sweet, sweet relief. Can we have more of this, please?
Hyderabad FC show early promise was no fluke
Hyderabad FC have nine points in six games this season. They had ten in eighteen last time around. This week, they were full value, and more, for their 3-2 win against SC East Bengal, and they gave Mumbai City an uneasy time in their 0-2 loss to the table-toppers.
Manuel Marquez Roca has truly transformed the club, along with his assistant Thangboi Singto, and they've done it by trusting his young Indian players to do the business. Akash Mishra and Ashish Rai as attacking fullbacks have been immense, Nikhil Poojary and Halicharan Narzary in front of them, exciting. Chinglensana Singh looks more comfortable with the ball at his feet than most Indian centre-backs, Hitesh Sharma is non-stop in the middle and Mohammad Yasir up front is a constant threat.
Oh, and Liston Colaco is the kind of player that makes you smile, the kind of player who reminds you that at the end of the day, football should be fun. And this column, for one, can never get enough of that.
Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, wow
This is peak Lobera ball, where left backs score goal-of-the-season contenders, and the football is, at times, utterly glorious.
East Bengal and Kerala Blasters, not so wow
SC East Bengal have two points in six games, have scored three goals and conceded eleven. Kerala Blasters have three points in six games, have scored six goals and conceded eleven. They are 9th and 10th on the table. And they are, at this moment, terrible.
On Sunday, they showed glimpses of things clicking. East Bengal's attack created chances and Kerala's threatened the opposition goalie. And they both scored. But even here, the faint praise must be qualified. Kerala's defence still has the structural integrity of a straw castle in a cyclone, and East Bengal's midfield is still as irrelevant to the outcome of the match as Robbie Fowler's choice of footwear.
These are two big clubs (yes, yes, one has more history, we know), with two massive fanbases. Things need to start turning around, and soon, if toxic negativity isn't to permeate both campaigns.
P.S. At least Kerala have Sahal Abdul Samad back -- it's now up to Kibu Vicuna to coax a consistent performance or three out of him.
Who can catch the big three?
It's early days still, but the league seems to be drifting into three separate mini-leagues. You have the bottom three (the above two, plus an Odisha who have one point in six) struggling to remain afloat, the middle five showing decent form but oscillating between good results and bad, and a top 3 who just seem to be going on and on. Mumbai City, ATK Mohun Bagan, and the as yet undefeated Bengaluru FC. And the scariest part? All three seem to be just warming up and are just threatening to get into their stride. Can anyone from the chasing mid-pack break out and catch them before they do?