Week nine of ISL 2020-21 saw the goals dry up with just 11 goals in eight matches, but the drama? Not so much. We bring you the main talking points from the week's action.
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Mumbai City do an ATK Mohun Bagan
On Thursday, ATK Mohun Bagan beat Chennaiyin FC 1-0 with a header from a set-piece. For the 91 minutes preceding it, they didn't do much except defend - deep and well. We expected that -- that's what they do.
But it was a bit of a surprise when Mumbai City FC 'did an ATKMB' against second-from-bottom SC East Bengal, beating them 1-0 on Friday through a header from a play immediately after a set-piece. They played some neat football on either side of the goal, at least for the first hour, before completely going into a shell for the last 30 minutes. They rarely looked to attack, misplaced passes and completely ceded possession to their opponents. Mourtada Fall was Man of the Match as much for scoring the lone goal of the game as for his supreme last-ditch defending.
It was unexpected, and more than a little disconcerting, but as Mumbai have already shown this season, this is a different side of coach Sergio Lobera, one where he embraces the reality that sometimes you just have to go out there and grind out results. He may not like it much -- he insisted as much in the post-match interview -- but the five-point lead at the top speaks for itself. Sometimes, 'doing an ATKMB' is just what title challengers need to do.
Bright Enobakhare is East Bengal
The main reason for those 30 minutes of Mumbai City backs-to-the-wall-defending was Bright Enobakhare. That's how long he was on the pitch for - coming on at the hour mark, he completely changed the game. His presence has a domino effect. With the ball, he's direct, imaginative, and an agent of chaos, but even when he doesn't have it, he's dangerous. He attracts defenders to him, in turn opening up space for those around him. He gives his teammates the courage to attempt risky passes and adventurous plays knowing that if it goes through him, there is a high possibility of success. And it showed, when SCEB took the game and absolutely dominated the runaway league leaders for that half-hour period.
Robbie Fowler deserves credit for lifting his team's spirits after such a dispiriting start, and he has shown much greater tactical and man-management nous in the last few games, but the fact remains that without Bright, his team are not much of a threat. Stop him by fair means or foul -- like Chennaiyin did -- and SCEB are just too easy to handle. Addressing that should be Fowler's biggest concern right now.
Hyderabad lull not a cause to worry. Yet.
0-0, 1-1, 0-0. It's been three matches of low-scoring draws for the previously-prolific Hyderabad, but there's no sense of impending crisis. Nobody around the team seems to be panicking, and their fans shouldn't either. Their team is full of youngsters who are in their first (or first couple of) season(s) at this level, so it's only natural for the team to go through a few lulls now and then. They are very much a work in progress, and Manolo Marquez has shown enough coaching expertise to ensure they move past this sticky patch. It will encourage him that they are still creating chances and are still unbeaten in five. It ought to be only a matter of time before his team get back into their groove.
Where do Bengaluru go from here?
Naushad Moosa's Bengaluru FC lost one game, and came from behind to draw another, this week. As you'd reasonably expect, a lot of the deficiencies that plagued the last few games of Carles Cuadrat's era remain -- a lack of coherent attacking shape, no finishing, errant decision-making in the final third, and an unusually shaky defence. They do, though, seem to have rediscovered that defining characteristic of theirs -- fight. This team is battling, and you can see the difference.
Moosa has already implemented some quick remedies -- playing more youngsters, getting Sunil Chhetri the ball in more central attacking areas, attempting to pass the ball along the ground more, and of course, the fight -- but just how much can he do knowing that he is definitely going to be replaced as head coach as soon as possible?
We are working hard on getting a couple of new players and most importantly a new head coach - watch this space over the next few days - we know what's wrong and everyone at the club is working hard on and off the field @bengalurufc proud of the fight and spirit today
- Parth Jindal (@ParthJindal11) January 24, 2021
There is a difference between being an interim manager with the alluring possibility of permanence in the future and being one who has been very clearly told he is just a caretaker. That gap could well prove the difference between a late run for the playoff spots and a season that is a write-off.
Of benches and respect
This has been done to death on post-match interviews and on commentary, but both Pradhyum Reddy and Phil Brown were right to call out the behaviour against referees by team benches and coaching staff during games. It's not that either of those two haven't done it before (they've acknowledged it too), but maybe seeing it from a detached outside-in perspective, they can see more clearly how embarrassingly awful some of the behaviour has been. Yes, some of the refereeing has been shambolic. Yes, coaches have every right to feel aggrieved. Yes, football is an extremely emotional sport and is all the better for it. But, no, none of that is an excuse for some of these professionals to act the way they do sometimes. Kibu Vicuna got it right when he said it can be hard to control things at the heat of the moment, but it is time now for them all to introspect. And going off on the guy asking the question is not going to help.
Player of The Week - Rahul KP
In a Kerala Blasters FC team that still looks desperately short on confidence moving forward, Rahul Kannoly Praveen sticks out rather prominently. It's making all the difference.
Surrounded by strikers who hesitate to shoot (Gary Hooper, Jordan Murray) and creators who do everything well till they get into the final third (Sahal Abdul Samad, Facundo Pereyra), Rahul is a constant, reliable source of direct running and direct shooting. He doesn't shy away from having a pop at goal, and he doesn't think twice about dribbling at opposition defenders. His game-winning goal against Bengaluru FC showcased the best of his on-the-ball abilities, while the equaliser against FC Goa -- a header scored from a corner by arguably the shortest guy in the box -- displayed the best of his off-the-ball skills.
There are, of course, areas he can improve upon, but he's just 20, and it's clear he's learning quickly. Right now, he's the spark keeping the Blasters juggernaut alive and breathing.