Week 3 of ISL 2023-24. Do you want to remember it for sensational goals? Or chaos? Or fights? Or the typical ISL refereeing errors of the week?
Whatever you want to remember it as, it sure was eventful, which is good because that gives us a lot to muse upon.
Goals of the week? More like goals of the season
Where do we even start with this one? Javi Hernandez's sensational overhead to give Bengaluru FC three points that they were desperate for? Parthib Sundar Gogoi's now-trademark right-footed Arjen Robben impersonation? The unheralded Jay Gupta's nonchalant turn and left-footed smack past Amrinder Singh into the top corner? Rei Tachikawa's superb free-kick to give Jamshedpur their first win of the season?
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If we played a montage of all those goals in succession, you'd think it was a goal of the season nominees list.
Sahal Abdul Samad is loving the Bagan life
They say that sometimes in football, a change of environment can do a player a world of good. Sahal Abdul Samad is putting up a live demonstration every week of why that isn't just a cliché. Sahal was the apple of any Kerala Blasters fan's eye. "Sahal 18" is what you saw on pretty much every yellow shirt in Kochi until last season. However, you felt like the on-field performances weren't quite matching the expectation.
- Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) October 7, 2023
At Bagan, though, he is just another cog in the Mohun Bagan all-stars machine. And that's helping him shine...in fact, there's an argument that he has been the star for Mohun Bagan in the early parts of this season. His dribbling against Chennaiyin FC was a sight to behold, but so was his decision-making and passing. Beware ISL, the Sahal who threatened to explode once too many times previously may have just done so for good.
Lobera v Manolo: A spectacle of chaos
Minute 41: Noah Sadaoui dribbles forward, he's dispossessed. Then Carl McHugh crunches into a tackle but Ahmed Jahouh cleans up the loose ball momentarily. He's then outmuscled by Sadaoui who slips it into Carlos Martinez, and then the striker tries to round Amrinder but runs out of room to do so.
If there was a sequence of play that could sum up Sergio Lobera's return to Goa, it was that. It was a chaotic game, uncharacteristic of two teams with so much quality in their ranks. Be it Sandesh Jhingan's hand-of-God tribute attempt (that somehow went 180 degrees opposite to the goal), Brandon Fernandes's shot from 40 yards out, some close penalty shouts, Goa not marking Mourtada Fall on set-pieces, it was a game that defied conventional wisdom.
That made for excellent entertainment, but Messrs. Lobera and Manolo would love to trade entertainment for a lot more control, particularly the Goa coach, who was the master of the ISL 1-0 last season.
The referees' cry for help
In some games like the one between Mumbai City and Kerala Blasters, the referee couldn't control the game because of the emotions involved. Even though he managed to get most decisions right, the referee could've done with additional help. Additional help that, now, the referees could only have if they had eyes in the back of their head. Yoell van Nieff and Milos Drncic deservedly saw red. Rostyn Griffiths arguably should have as well, while Prabir Das could well have talked himself into an early shower too.
AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey had, at the end of last season, hinted at the introduction of VAR lite, which at the very least, would've been an additional tool to help the referees, even while being far from foolproof.
Take Bengaluru's game against East Bengal for example, the penalty the hosts were given for perceived contact between Mandar Rao Dessai and Sunil Chhetri was one that would probably be overturned by VAR. The on-field referee has one view, and at times, not the best angle to view an incident from. Whether or not video assistance would've led to the right decision is a debate unto itself, but at least the referees have another set of eyes, a few more angles, and a little bit of more time to arrive at the decisions.
That the ISL's refereeing needs to improve is a long-standing fact, but maybe the best investment that the AIFF can make into improving refereeing standards is to provide them more assistance, to take a little bit of pressure off the men on the field.
Will time and Coyle save Chennaiyin?
With every passing week, the magnitude of the task facing Owen Coyle at Chennaiyin is being laid bare. Defensively, they are all over the place. Their midfield is being run over. They're not scoring enough goals. As another Scotsman once famously said (of his then team, Manchester United), this team must improve in a number of areas, including passing, creating chances, and defending.
Do they have the players to do so? Arguably. Do they have the manager who can turn it around? An ISL League Shield to his name says they do.
Coyle's Jamshedpur story is one of the best in the ISL at rallying an underrated group of players together. He desperately needs that to happen at Chennaiyin sooner rather than later. Losing to this Mohun Bagan side is no matter of shame, but three losses in three games -- having scored once and conceded seven times in 270 minutes is a disastrous start to the season.
Punjab are on the board - they're plucky, if nothing else
Punjab FC fell behind to a Parthib Gogoi stunner, but they stayed in the game, showed desire to fight, created chances, and eventually through Melroy Assisi's goal, put up their first ISL point on the board.
Coach Staikos Vergetis made the call to bench Kiran Limbu in goal in favour of Ravi Kumar, and it was a move that immediately paid off, as Romain Philippoteaux saw his penalty saved by the Indian keeper.
In the likes of Luca Majcen, Juan Mera, Madih Talal and Amarjit Singh, Vergetis has a solid core to build the side on, and that showed against NorthEast, as the ISL's newest team controlled proceedings, having more possession, more shots, more passes, and generally being a bigger threat than their opposition.