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  • Aditya Padinjat

The ISL Midseason (P)review

Updated: Feb 3


 

The mid-season break has been a time of important development for Indian football, with both the Asian Cup and Kalinga Super Cup taking place. As the season resumes, we at the Edict Sports desk are providing you with a complete run-down of all the teams and what to look out for in the upcoming half of the season:

 

1.  Kerala Blasters  (P12, W8, L2, D2)

 

Manager: Ivan Vukomanovic   

Top scorer: Dimitrios Diamantakos (7)

 

First half of the season: Kerala Blasters was one of the stories of the first half of the season. They started the season on the back foot, having lost Sahal Abdul Samad to Mohun Bagan and manager Ivan Vukomanovoic serving a touchline ban for taking his team off the field protesting a refereeing decision last season. They responded by playing some scintillating football, turning over Mohun Bagan SG and Mumbai City in the process. Goalkeeper Sachin Suresh has established himself as Prabhsukhan Gill’s replacement, and has shown himself to be a penalty-saving expert at it. The main issue they suffered was the long-term injury of captain Adrian Luna, and they will need the rest of their attack to step up in order to make up for his loss.

 

Star of the season (so far): Sachin Suresh — Dimitrios Diamantakos has been in fantastic form for the Blasters, but Sachin Suresh’s establishment in goal has been an unexpected bonus for them this season. With Prabhsukhan Gill moving on to East Bengal, there was a question about who would be between the sticks for them with the highly-rated Lara Sharma coming in from Bengaluru FC as well. Suresh has been a revelation, the highlight being a game against Odisha FC where he saved from Diego Mauricio from the spot twice.

 

Business during the break: Their main transfer activity involved looking for an Adrian Luna replacement, and they look to have secured it in Lithuanian captain Fedor Cernych. Signing Justine Emmanuel, who missed the first half of the season through injury, may also come back into the reckoning, especially given that striker Kwame Peprah is also facing time on the sideline. 

 

Super Cup performance: The Super Cup was viewed as a good opportunity to break their trophy duck, but it ended with disappointment as they went out in the group stages, having narrowly lost to Jamshedpur FC and being summarily beaten by NorthEast United. 

 

Player to watch out for: Jeakson Singh — Jeakson Singh’s absence in the Indian midfield during the Asian Cup was incredibly prominent, but he returned to the Blasters squad for the Super Cup. If he can pick up where he left off pre-injury, it bodes well for their second half of the season.

 

2.  FC Goa (P10, W7, L0, D3)

 

Manager: Manolo Marquez 

Top scorer: Noah Sadaoui (4 goals)

 

First half of the season: FC Goa was probably the team of the season until this point. They made a series of exciting pre-season signings including Sandesh Jhingan, Odei Onaindia, Udanta Singh, and Carl McHugh. Supported by their exciting young left-back Jay Gupta, they have conceded only 5 goals all season and went 615 minutes without conceding at one point. Going forward, they have been powered by Victor Rodriguez and Noah Sadaoui in attack, ably supported by captain Brandon Fernandes, who was possibly unlucky not to get more minutes in the Asian Cup. The only reason that they don’t sit at the top of the table is the vagaries of the fixture list.

 

Star of the season (so far): Noah Sadaoui — There was no question about Noah Sadaoui’s quality as a player, but having lost top scorer Iker Guarrotxena, Goa was relying on him to step up. He responded by answering the call, scoring 4 goals, and assisting another.

 

Business during the break: They seem to have any pressing needs, but they managed some impressive business anyways, picking up Mohammed Yasir from Hyderabad FC. If he can find some form, he will be more than a handful as part of this Goan attack. They have also secured the signature of Borja Herrera, who featured regularly for Super Cup winners East Bengal. The two of them could make Goa a big force. They have suffered a blow with Sandesh Jhingan picking up a serious injury, but are recruiting Nim Dorjee Tamang from Hyderabad FC to replace him. 


Super Cup performance: FC Goa went into the Super Cup as one of the pre-tournament favourites, but was drawn into a tough group with Inter Kashi, Bengaluru FC, and Odisha FC. They won their first two matches against Inter Kashi and Bengaluru to set up an effective quarter-final with Odisha FC, but lost 3-2 to a Mourtada Fall brace.

 

Player to watch out for: Carlos Martinez — Carlos Martinez’s performances after an electric Durand Cup were good, but there is a sense that he could still go even further in the second half of the season. He looked in good touch in the Super Cup, scoring thrice, a sign that bodes well for the team.

 

3.  Odisha FC  (P12, W7, L2, D3)

 

Manager: Sergio Lobera   

Top scorer: Roy Krishna (7)

 

First half of the season: The jury was out on Odisha FC at the start of the season. Their summer turnover was significant, with Saul Crespo, Nandhakumar Sekhar, Pedro Martin, and Victor Rodriguez all heading out the door. In their place came Roy Krishna, Ahmed Jahouh, and Mourtada Fall, who are all quality players but with certain question marks around them, along with Puitea. They have responded by silencing all the doubters, cutting through teams powered by Krishna and Diego Mauricio. Krishna in particular has now scored against every ISL team he has ever played against. 

 

Star of the season (so far): Ahmed Jahouh — When Ahmed Jahouh left Mumbai City to come to Odisha, there were doubts about whether he would be able to recreate the form that had made him so successful in the past. He has responded by being central to this Odisha midfield, and another strong second half of the season could see them well on their way to titles.

 

Business during the break: The Juggernauts have gone to Hyderabad for their signings, bringing in full-back Vignesh Dakshinamurthy from Hyderabad FC on loan with midfielder Hitesh Sharma following. While they have not had the best seasons at Hyderabad, they could stand to become much stronger if they can find form at the Kalinga Stadium.

 

Super Cup performance: It was so close yet so far for Odisha, who were looking to win back-to-back Super Cups. They battled through a tough group with FC Goa, Bengaluru FC, and Inter Kashi to set up a semi-final with Mumbai City, who they dispatched courtesy of a Diego Mauricio penalty. They faced East Bengal in the final, and despite coming from behind with 10 men, they lost 3-2 to a Cleiton Silva winner in extra time.  

 

Player to watch out for: Isak Vanlalruatfela — Isak played regular minutes in the first half of the season, getting 2 goals and 2 assists. He has followed this up with a goal and assist in the Super Cup, and will continue to be a dangerous outlet for this Odisha team.

 

4.  Mumbai City  (P11, W6, L1, D4)

 

Manager: Petr Kratky    

Top scorer: Jorge Pereyra Diaz (4)

 

First half of the season: Mumbai City was dealt a blow in the middle of the season when manager Des Buckingham left the club to take up a role at Oxford United. However, the benefit of the City Football Group model became clear as Petr Kratky came in and they were able to pick up where they left off instantly. They have drawn more games than they would have liked, and they have picked up a remarkable 6 red cards (including 4 in one game). They will also be disappointed to have lost Greg Stewart, who has departed back to Scotland. That said, they have consistently shown why they are a quality outfit with their strong attacking performances, carving apart Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC in particular.

 

Star of the season (so far): Lallianzuala Chhangte — In truth, Chhangte may not have reached the ceiling of his potential yet, but when he gets on the ball, everything else becomes secondary to watching him. Against Australia, one could hear the crowd hold their breath for him in a way that has only ever been reserved for the best players. He will be critical to Mumbai rising up the table in the next part of the season.

 

Business during the break: The break thus far has only brought departures from the Islanders camp. Greg Stewart has returned to Scotland with Kilmarnock, and his departure will be a big blow to the side going forward. Dutch striker Nasser El Khayati is also being linked with a departure. As their replacement, they are being linked to former FC Goa talisman Iker Guarrotxena, which will be a stunning coup if they can pull it off.  

 

Super Cup performance: Mumbai City was always bound to be a competitor for the Super Cup. Despite losing players to the national team, they managed to reach the semi-finals of the tournament. Once they got there, they fell to Odisha FC in a tempestuous game which they finished with 8 men.   

 

Player to watch out for: Ayush Chhikara — Ayush Chhikara played a mere 28 minutes in the first half of the season, but scored 3 goals in his first two appearances for the club in the Super Cup. With Greg Stewart having now left the club, Chhikara will not be a like-for-like replacement but could play more minutes to show his quality.

 

5.  Mohun Bagan Super Giant  (P10, W6, L1, D3)

 

Manager: Antonio Lopez Habas    

Top scorer: Jason Cummings (4)

 

First half of the season: The newly christened Mohun Bagan Super Giant was the team to beat coming into this season. They went on a spending spree, buying Anwar Ali, Jason Cummings, Anirudh Thapa, Armando Sadiku, Sahal Abdul Samad, and Hector Yuste. However, a mixture of injuries and poor form meant that they were able to win only 1 of their last 5 games in the league, and manager Juan Ferrando was sacked and replaced by Antonio Lopez Habas (who has now managed the club as Atletico de Kolkata, ATK, ATK Mohun Bagan, and Mohun Bagan Super Giant).   

 

Star of the season (so far): Dimitrios Petratos — Most of Mohun Bagan SG’s squad have struggled for form or fitness, but one of those who hasn’t is the hero of their Shield win last season, Dimi Petratos. Petratos has scored 3 and assisted 1 more, and kept an attack that has struggled afloat at times.

 

Business during the break: While there has been no shortage of rumours regarding their transfer business, Mohun Bagan has yet to make any acquisitions or sales during the break. Sahil Tavora has been linked but nothing has materialised yet. 

 

Super Cup performance: Their Super Cup campaign was incredibly disappointing, having been one of the favourites going in. They narrowly won their first two games against Sreenidi Deccan and Hyderabad FC (relying on two goals in the last 10 minutes against Sreenidi), leaving them with an effective quarter-final against East Bengal. Their rivals turned up stronger on the day, defeating them 3-1 and consigning Habas to a group stage exit on his return.   

 

Player to watch out for: Sahal Abdul Samad — India struggled to create chances at the Asian Cup, and a large part of that is down to Sahal Abdul Samad’s absence through injury. Sahal is yet to get off the mark in Mohun Bagan colours, but he picked up 4 assists in the first half of the season. If he can find form, he will be tough to stop for any defence.

 


6.  NorthEast United  (P12, W2, L4, D6)

 

Manager: Juan Pedro Benali    

Top scorer: Parthib Gogoi (3)

 

First half of the season: NorthEast United came into the season hopeful after a run to the Durand Cup semi-finals spearheaded by Parthib Gogoi and Phalguni Singh. Their season started positively as well, losing just 1 of their first 5 games, while Parthib scored 3 in his first 4. Since then, both his form and the team’s form have tailed off, but they remain a dangerous side who can beat anyone on their day.

 

Star of the season (so far): Parthib Gogoi — Parthib Gogoi has established himself as one of the brightest young stars in the country with a penchant for scoring brilliant goals. His red-hot run of form at the start of the season was incredible, and powered some of the best football this side have played this season.

 

Business during the break: There has been some international turnover for NorthEast United in the break. Brazilian striker Ibson Melo has departed the club after scoring just 1 goal in the first half of the season, while Moroccan centre-back Hamza Regragui and Australian centre-forward Tomi Juric have come in.

 

Super Cup performance: NorthEast United dropped out of the Super Cup in the group stages, but they had positive displays throughout. They narrowly lost their first game to group winners Jamshedpur, but then won their next two games against Shillong Lajong and Kerala Blasters, spectacularly beating the Blasters 4-1.

 

Player to watch out for: Nestor Albiach — Nestor Albiach scored twice and got an assist in the first half of the season, but he was in red-hot form during the Super Cup. He scored 3 goals in 3 games, and could be a point of difference in the second half of the season. 

 

 

7.  Chennaiyin FC  (P12, W3, L6, D3)

 

Manager: Owen Coyle     

Top scorer: Rafael Crivellaro (3)

First half of the season: It was a summer of change in Chennai in the off-season. Fans’ hearts were broken by the departure of captain Anirudh Thapa to Mohun Bagan SG, but was offset by the returns of old heroes in striker Rafael Crivellaro and manager Owen Coyle, who were both there for the club’s run to the final in the 2019-20 season. On the field, they are capable of moments of magic, especially through Crivellaro (who has 3 goals and 5 assists). They put in incredibly impressive wins to beat Punjab 5-1 and Bengaluru 2-0. However, they have also been defensively suspect, conceding a league-high 22 goals.

Star of the season (so far): Rafael Crivellaro — Rafael Crivellaro didn’t play his best football at Jamshedpur FC but his return to Chennai has been a success story for the Mariners. He has scored 3 goals and got 5 assists to be the side’s talisman.

 

Business during the break: It’s been a relatively quiet window thus far, with only Mobashir Rahman coming in from East Bengal on loan.

 

Super Cup performance: Chennaiyin’s Super Cup performance was respectable without being spectacular. They picked up a draw against Punjab and a win against Gokulam Kerala, leaving them with an effective quarter-final against Mumbai City where they went down 1-0.  

 

Player to watch out for: Irfan Yadwad — Irfan Yadwad had a few promising cameos in the first half of the season, and he scored his first goal for the club during the Super Cup. If he can kick on and pick up form in the second half of the season, Chennaiyin’s attack will be even more potent.

 

 

8.  East Bengal  (P12, W3, L6, D3)

 

Manager: Carles Cuadrat   

Top scorer: Cleiton Silva (5)

First half of the season: The first half of the season has been a mixed bag for East Bengal. Their off-season was promising as they picked up Borja Herrero and Saul Crespo, as well as Indian experience in Edwin Vanspaul and Harmanjot Khabra. They had a strong defensive record, conceding the third-least goals in the league, but have mostly relied on moments of Cleiton Silva and Naorem Mahesh Singh going forward.


Star of the season (so far): Cleiton Silva — The story of East Bengal going forward has been clutch moments by Cleiton Silva, as is his speciality. He has 5 goals this season, including injury-time winners against Hyderabad FC and Kerala Blasters. He continued this in the Super Cup as well, scoring twice to knock out city rivals Mohun Bagan, as well as a sensational winner in the final.  

 

Business during the break: There have been plenty of whispers regarding potential signings for East Bengal in the break. While their only transfer activity thus far has been Mobashir Rahman departing to Chennaiyin FC, they have been strongly linked with striker Victor Vazquez. He could help them capitalise on their Super Cup momentum and rise sharply up the table.  

 

Super Cup performance: Years of heartbreak were ended as they managed to secure their first trophy in 12 years. Their run was sensational, knocking out bitter rivals Mohun Bagan before beating Jamshedpur in the semi-final. Come finals time, they held their nerve to beat Odisha 3-2 after extra time despite both sides having had a player sent off. Cleiton Silva provided yet another clutch moment, robbing Narender Gehlot in his own box and finishing to send their fans into wonderland.

 

Player to watch out for: Nandhakumar Sekhar — Nandhakumar Sekhar had a decent first half of the season, scoring 2 goals and assisting 3 after his move from Odisha. He was called up to the India team for the SAFF Championships in the summer, and a strong second half to the season on the back of scoring in the Super Cup final could put him right back in contention for India spots after the Asian Cup showing.

 

 

9.  Bengaluru FC  (P12, W2, L5, D5)

 

Manager: Gerard Zaragoza   

Top scorer: Sunil Chhetri (3)

First half of the season: There were high hopes for Bengaluru FC coming into this season after their dream run to the final last season. Despite the departure of Roy Krishna to Odisha FC, the exciting signings of Keziah Veendorp, Ryan Williams, Curtis Main, and Slavko Damjanovic to complement the talent of Naorem Roshan Singh, Sivasakthi Narayan, Sunil Chhetri, and Javi Hernandez meant that there was excitement. Instead, they’ve struggled to pick up wins, drawing 5 of their 12 games and struggling for wins. They ended up parting ways with the immensely popular Simon Grayson and replacing him with a former assistant coach, Gerald Zaragoza.  


Star of the season (so far): Suresh Singh Wangjam — It was difficult to pinpoint a highlight of the season for Bengaluru FC, but they have given Suresh a more advanced role this season, and while he has had a few bedding issues, he looks like he is understanding the role and could be a strong option for both BFC and the Indian team.

 

Business during the break: Curtis Main was an exciting signing for the centre-forward slot, but he couldn’t really get going and has now returned to Scotland with Dundee. In his place, Danish striker Oliver Drost has come in. Their other exciting signing is that of Chinglensana Singh, who moves over from Hyderabad FC to fill one of their centre-back slots and could go some way to filling the hole that Sandesh Jhingan’s departure created. They have also picked up national team full-back Nikhil Poojary, who will help fix their defensive issues as well.  

 

Super Cup performance: It was an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Bengaluru FC, who struggled to get goals at the tournament. Their performances themselves were not bad, but a lack of goals cost them badly, especially against FC Goa and Inter Kashi, both of whom they dominated. The return of Rohit Kumar and the emergence of Shivaldo are also positives for them.

 

Player to watch out for: Rohit Kumar — Rohit Kumar was getting regular minutes for the Indian team in their incredibly successful summer, but struggled to get into the BFC team early in the season and missed the second part of it through injury. He made his return in an unsuccessful Super Cup campaign, but the team looked significantly better with him on the pitch.

 

10.  Jamshedpur FC  (P12, W2, L7, D3)

 

Manager: Khalid Jamil   

Top scorer: Daniel Chima Chukwu (5)

First half of the season: A tumultuous off-season at Jamshedpur FC saw the experienced Scott Cooper take over from Aidy Boothroyd as manager, while a significant turnover of players saw Rafael Crivellaro, Farukh Chowdhury, Ishan Pandita, and Jay-Emmanuel Thomas all depart the club. In their place came Peter Sliskovic, Alen Stevanovic, Rei Tachikawa, and Jeremy Manzorro to partner the returning Ritwik Das and Daniel Chima Chukwu. However, they have found results hard to come by, with their two wins both coming against last-place Hyderabad FC. Das, the top scorer from last season, and key midfielder Pronay Halder have both missed most of the season through injury. In their remaining 10 games, they have scored just 6 and conceded 15 in a poor run of form that ultimately led to Scott Cooper departing the club just before the break. First in the in-tray of the new manager Khalid Jamil will be strengthening the squad for a stronger second half of the season.

Star of the season (so far): Daniel Chima Chukwu — It has been a tough season for Jamshedpur, and for this reason, many of their players understandably do not stand out. Their biggest moments of positivity though, have come courtesy of Daniel Chima Chukwu. Though he has scored in spurts, he has provided some spectacular performances, notably scoring a hattrick against Hyderabad FC including a stunning bicycle kick.  


Business during the break: A manager change was the heaviest business for Jamshedpur FC during the break. Scott Cooper left the club and was replaced by Khalid Jamil. Winger Steve Ambri has taken the place of Petar Sliskovic as well.  

 

Super Cup performance: It was a surprisingly positive Super Cup for Jamshedpur FC under new manager Khalid Jamil. Hopes may not have been high going into the tournament, but they overcame a tricky group with Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United to make it to the semi-finals, where they bowed out to eventual winners East Bengal.

 

Player to watch out for: Steve Ambri – One of the positives of the Super Cup run was the emergence of Steve Ambri as an attacking option. Brought in to replace the departing Petar Sliskovic, Ambri made some bright cameos off the bench and scored a goal too. He could be a factor in a Jamshedpur resurgence should it come in the second half.

 

 

11.   Punjab FC  (P12, W1, L6, D5)

 

Manager: Staikos Vergetis

Top scorer: Luka Majcen (3)

First half of the season: No one was entirely sure how Punjab FC would get on in their first season after being promoted to the ISL from the I-League. They have established themselves as a respectable side who are tough to beat, although their financial restrictions are clear to see in their results. Some of their games have also provided stunning moments, such as their first ISL win against Chennaiyin, and their pulsating 3-3 draw against Bengaluru FC.

Star of the season (so far): Luka Majcen — Luka Majcen established himself as a captain and talisman for Punjab FC in the I-League, scoring 16 goals and getting 3 assists. Coming into the season, it was clear that much of their success would correlate with his own. His returns have been solid (3 goals) but he will be integral to their fortunes going forward as well.


Business during the break: There have been no notable incomings or departures yet for Punjab FC. However, they have been strongly linked to Bryce Miranda, a young winger from Kerala Blasters. 

 

Super Cup performance: Punjab was drawn a tough hand, being put in a group with Mumbai City, Gokulam Kerala, and Chennaiyin FC. They managed a record of 2 draws (against Chennaiyin and Gokulam) and lost to Mumbai City courtesy of a heartbreaking 97th-minute winner.  

 

Player to watch out for: Wilmar Jordan — Having a fantastic goals record for NorthEast United, Wilmar Jordan was one of the exciting signings for Punjab FC fans in the break. Unfortunately, injuries meant that he hardly featured at all for them, and didn’t score a goal. However, he featured prominently in the Super Cup, scoring against Chennaiyin as well, and if he can form a threatening partnership with Majcen, Punjab could easily be a threat in the second half of the season.

 

 

12.  Hyderabad FC  (P11, W0, L7, D4)

 

Manager: Thangboi Singto

Top scorer: Hitesh Sharma (1)

First half of the season: It’s difficult to comprehend how poorly Hyderabad FC’s season has been. The off-season saw them lose manager Manolo Marquez, and first-team players Akash Mishra, Halicharan Narzary, Odei Onaindia, Joel Chianeze, and Borja Herrera among rumours of financial issues and a transfer. They brought in Conor Nestor and Thangboi Singto as first-team coach and head coach respectively, although the division of work was not always clear. They have scored only 5 goals all season, and are rooted to the bottom of the table without a win.

Star of the season (so far): Nikhil Poojary — Something doesn’t feel right about picking a star of the season for Hyderabad, but Nikhil Poojary is a genuine national-team-quality full-back, who has played well enough to keep his place in the team this season. It is unfortunate then, that he has gone to Bengaluru FC.  


Business during the break: Amidst financial difficulties, there have understandably been few incomings at Hyderabad FC. Unfortunately for them, the outcomings have been multiple as well. Jonathan Moya, Felipe Amorim, Mohammed Yasir, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, and Joe Knowles have all left already, and Hitesh Sharma, Nikhil Poojary, Chinglensana Singh, and Sahil Tavora have all been linked with moves away.

 

Super Cup performance: Quite understandably, hopes were not high for Hyderabad in the Super Cup, but even still their performances left much to be desired. They failed to win a game and conceded 9 goals. To make matters worse, they suffered a poor 4-1 defeat to Sreenidi Deccan where they conceded 3 goals in the first 10 minutes.

 

Player to watch out for: Makan Chothe — With the expected exodus from the break, it will fall on the youth of Hyderabad to take up the mantle of pushing them up the table. One player who may be able to contribute is Makan Chothe, a young winger signed from FC Goa in the summer. He struggled for minutes in the first half of the season, but scored his first goal in the Super Cup. He may be able to help resurrect this Hyderabad side.


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