ISL 2023-24 mid-term grades: FC Goa get A+, Kerala Blasters get A, Bengaluru get E

AK BijuRaj/Focus Sports/ISL

With the Indian Super League breaking for the national team to be allowed some (not enough, though, according to Igor Stimac) time to prepare for the AFC Asian Cup, we're somewhat at the halfway point of the league this season.

It has been an absorbing season so far, with the top five teams looking a cut above the rest of the league. Kerala Blasters go into the break on top of the table, but just two points behind them are FC Goa with two games in hand as well, and none lost. Odisha FC, Mumbai City FC and Mohun Bagan Super Giant are also in the running for the league shield at the moment, as the title race promises to be among the closest the ISL has seen in its short history so far.

Three sides have different managers now compared to the start of the season, while a lot of them have had their ambitions culled.

At this midway point, ESPN India assesses each team, look at what makes them tick (or doesn't), and grade them (A+ being highest, F being lowest)

Fixtures | Scores | Table | Stats

Kerala Blasters

Grade: A

Biggest strength: Ivan Vukomanovic. You can question that moment of madness in the playoffs last year (and you should, really), but there's no doubting Vukomanovic's brilliant coaching or man-management. This has been underlined even more after Adrian Luna's injury.

Biggest weakness: Lack of plan B. When the press fails, the Blasters have had the tendency to lose shape and solidity.

Best player: Luna and it's not even a debate. But considering he's injured for the long term, current league top-scorer Dimitrios Diamantakos holds the key.

Watchability: 9/10. Arguably the most watchable team in the league thanks to their high-pressing, non-stop running style.

What they must improve: Without Luna, the volume of their chance creation has dipped -- it will take more consistency from the young wingers Rahul KP and Mohammed Aimen to come close to making up for it.

FC Goa

Grade: A+

Biggest strength: Manolo Marquez. His ability to constantly improve Indian players is astounding, and that he's managed to build the most miserly defence in the land at a new club right from the off.

Biggest weakness: Their forwards can be profligate at times, but it's a minor quibble.

Best player: Hard to pick one, but Victor Rodriguez with the most goal involvements. Although Jay Gupta and Noah Sadaoui deserve a mention, as do the impregnable CB pairing of Odei Onaindia and Sandesh Jhingan (just 4.8xG and 4 actual goals conceded in 9 games!)

Watchability: Goa's games tend to have them exerting a vice-like control over proceedings, which can get boring. Yet, watching them dismantle Bagan with beautiful team goals was worthy of 9/10.

What they must improve: Unbeaten in the league, second by two points with two games in hand. What's to improve?

Odisha FC

Grade: A

Biggest strength: Their attacking football. In 12 league matches, Odisha FC have scored the most number of goals among all 12 teams. They have two potent forwards in Roy Krishna and Diego Mauricio while centre-back Mourtada Fall remains a big threat during the set-pieces.

Biggest weakness: Their away form is bit of a concern. Not a big weakness as such (at least so far), but both their defeats in the season came away from home.

Best player: Ahmed Jahouh. The midfield maestro is central to Sergio Lobera's brand of football -- creating big chances, scoring crucial goals and putting the tackles.

Watchability: 8/10. Lobera's earlier stints in ISL with FC Goa and Mumbai City FC showed he's capable of producing champions teams who are also fun to watch. This Odisha FC is no different.

What they must improve: They must win big matches against the likes of Goa, Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City if they want to have a genuine crack at the title. It's possible.

Mumbai City FC

Grade: B

Biggest strength: The City Football Group. Any club with a system less robust than that might have felt the departure of Des Buckingham more acutely than Mumbai have. Petr Kratky has settled right in and has them not conceding goals at all.

Biggest weakness: Profligacy. Mumbai have missed the most big chances in the league this season (12), while also having created the most xG in the league this season (14.9).

Best player: Jorge Pereya Diaz; 6 goals in the league this season, when none of his teammates have scored more than two. He's the reason they're still in the race to retain their league shield.

Watchability: 6/10. Nowhere near Buckingham's monsters of last season, but still very good controllers of games, excellent in possession, and still have the magic touches of Greg Stewart that make you go, 'how has he done that?'

What they must improve: Greg Stewart, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Bipin Singh have scored only five goals between them this season. That number needs to improve considerably if they have league shield ambitions.

ATK Mohun Bagan

Grade: B

Biggest strength: Their squad. Even after being decimated by injuries and suspensions, Juan Ferrando can throw together a starting XI that would beat most sides in the league.

Biggest weakness: Six teams have a better defensive record than Bagan this year. They are the league's second highes top-scorers, but the formula that won them the ISL last year (0-0 and penalties) has deserted them this time.

Best player: Sahal Abdul Samad started brilliantly before getting injured, while Jason Cummings leads their G/A charts (5). However, Dimi Petratos will still be the main man if Bagan win anything this year.

Watchability: Bagan were involved in the most watchable game this season (1-2 loss at Mumbai) but also an absolute snoozefest (1-0 win over BFC). However, their games are rarely low scoring ones, so 8/10.

What they must improve: Fitness. It's an easy answer for Bagan - if they keep their players fit, they win.

NorthEast United FC

Grade: C

Biggest strength: The men in suits. There appears to be a stability about NEUFC that'd been missing for a decade. A large part of that is down to Mandar Tamhane coming on board as CEO and coach Juan Pedro Benali's trust in young Indian talent.

Biggest weakness: There is a flimsiness to their midfield that often gets exploited by 'bigger' sides.

Best player: Parthib Gogoi; top-scorer and creator of goals-out-of-nothing.

Watchability: 6/10. Their flair players have freedom to experiment, which gives scope for a lot of fun.

What they must improve: Consistently creating quality chances: their goals still come from individual moments... and that may not suffice to remain the best of the rest (and take that sixth playoff spot).

Chennaiyin FC

Grade: D

Biggest strength: Owen Coyle is capable of working miracles in the ISL as he's shown before, even if this squad might be showing that it's too much even for him.

Biggest weakness: They're so open at the back, they've conceded the most xG in the league. To be worse than rock-bottom Hyderabad in that metric isn't a pretty sight.

Best player: Rafael Crivellaro. What a joy it is to see him fit and healthy and putting his stamp on ISL matches again. Can Coyle create a structure behind him that lets him be even better?

Watchability: 9/10, unless you're a Chennaiyin fan lamenting their defending. Most touches in the opposition box this season, but most xG conceded. Goals guaranteed everytime they play.

What they must improve: They have shown they can score goals. They haven't shown they can be solid over a 90-minute period. If they can't do that after the break, they probably will not make the playoffs.

East Bengal FC

Grade: C

Biggest strength: Defensively, they're as solid as they've been in a long time, certainly the most solid they've been in the ISL. That's a hallmark of a Carles Cuadrat team. Only FC Goa have conceded less xG than them.

Biggest weakness: Only Punjab have created lesser xG than them. Like it always is with a Cuadrat team, defensive solidity is at the expense of attacking threat.

Best player: Souvik Chakrabarti. When you want to create a team with a solid defensive shape, the defensive midfielder is often the most important. Souvik has shown this season why that is.

Watchability: 3/10 if you want to watch free flowing attacking football. 10/10 if you want to watch a well-organised, well-drilled defensive structure.

What they must improve: For a realistic shot at the playoffs, they need to create more chances, and maybe the solution is in finding a way to get Naorem Mahesh Singh more involved in play.

Bengaluru FC

Grade: D-

Biggest strength: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. His 38 saves are the most any keeper has made (by a margin), and he remains the one reliable(ish) performer.

Biggest weakness: The lack of fight that's been on display for most of the season. If you went at them with a bit of intent, they've crumbled: Gurpreet has made the most saves this season, and yet they've conceded the second-most goals.

Best player: See strength.

Watchability: 2/10. Not defensively solid enough for the puritan, not attacking-minded enough for the rest. This is a team that often looks like they're not sure what style they should be playing.

What they must improve: Identifying and then implementing a preferred style of play that will help improve their performances either defensively or in attack (ideally both, of course).

Jamshedpur FC

Grade: D

Biggest strength: Two wins, three draws and seven defeats. Just nine points from 12 matches and both wins coming against bottom-placed Hyderabad FC. So, it's tough to write about biggest strength at this point.

Biggest weakness: Injuries played a role in their struggle this season. Petar Sliskovic, their new star striker was ruled out for the rest of the season even before they played their first league match. The likes of Ritwik Das and Prannoy Halder are missing due to injuries.

Best player: Daniel Chima Chukwu. The forward has scored five goals from 11 matches. He struggled to find form early on but at least he has scored a few, including a hat trick against Hyderabad FC.

Watchability: 4/10. It has been a tough watch.

What they must improve: In short, everything.

Punjab FC

Grade: C

Biggest strength: It has been a tough start to the team in terms of results but their performances have not been bad. They show spirit and the players' work rate is admirable.

Biggest weakness: Punjab are heavily dependent on Madih Talal and to a certain extent, Luka Majcen and Juan Mera in attack. Others need to step up and work to find the balance in attack.

Best player: Madih Talal. The 26-year-old attacking midfielder is the creative spark in the team and his goal against Chennaiyin FC gave the team their first win in the league.

Watchability: 7/10. Again, the results are not there but they are competing on the field, taking the attack to the opposition.

What they must improve: Overall, they have quality in attack but aren't able to make the most of it.

Hyderabad FC

Grade: F

Biggest strength: A crowd that still applauds its players off the field.

Biggest weakness: The club itself. On the pitch, Hyderabad are bottom in every metric - and it's not even close.

Best player: The personnel would struggle in the second division I-League, but Mo Yasir and Nikhil Poojary are still the best of a sorry bunch.

Watchability: 10/10 for those who like watching horror movies/train wrecks in action. For those of a slightly less-morbid bent, 0/10 in watching former champions crash and burn.

What they must improve: The basic operations and fundamentals of a football club. After that, the on-pitch matters.