W2W4: ISL resumes with Maharashtra derby, Kochi party
The Indian Super League (ISL) will resume on Wednesday after an international break, and the first nine matches have already produced their share of upsets and breakout performances at either end of the points table.
What are the things to watch for when Delhi Dynamos host ATK to kick-start the next phase of matches?
The unlikely contenders for top of the table
Chennaiyin FC have long been known as slow starters, but even head coach John Gregory would be surprised at the poor output from the first two matches, both defeats, where Chennaiyin have only scored one goal.
Whatever else was ever wrong with a Chennaiyin team, they have always had goals in them, especially playing at home, and Jeje Lalpekhlua must hope to rediscover some scoring touch when they front up for their second home game on Thursday evening.
Chennaiyin’s opponents NorthEast United FC are one of five teams leading with four points (it could become six if Delhi win their home game on Wednesday evening) and have been pleasingly resilient in their first two matches.
Rowllin Borges also rediscovered some form with an emphatic late winner away to ATK, and his midfield tussle with the likes of Raphael Augusto and Anirudh Thapa could decide the momentum of the match.
Can ATK arrest their starting woes?
If Chennaiyin have been unconvincing in their title defence, the only other ISL winners, ATK, have been even slower off the blocks. Two matches at home have yielded neither points nor goals, and a red card for left-back Sena Ralte.
Coach Steve Coppell will take his side to Delhi against a well-rested Dynamos side, who last played on October 3, and would hope for the attacking duo of Balwant Singh and Manuel Lanzarote to show better co-ordination.
Coppll also has former Delhi striker and World Cupper Kalu Uche as an option to start, especially if he wants to field a more adventurous forward line.
After their Delhi visit, Coppell will take ATK to his former club Jamshedpur FC, and this will also be Tim Cahill’s first game at home this season. Jamshedpur have played with a judicious mix of possession and quick transitions into attack, looking especially good in a 2-0 win away to Mumbai City in their first game this season. Cahill couldn’t make the impact he wanted against Bengaluru FC, but played over 70 minutes of the gripping 2-2 draw.
Cahill against John Johnson in the ATK defence could be one of the mini-contests to watch for, with both known for their aerial prowess.
The Maha derby returns
In the ISL’s short history, one of the rivalries that the league has tried to promote is the Maharashtra derby.
What stands out in the first four seasons is how the Mumbai-Pune clash has been skewed in the latter’s favour, though Mumbai won the first face-off 5-0, in October 2014.
Pune have won five of the other seven encounters, and are unbeaten in in Mumbai since the first season. With Emiliano Alfaro, Adil Khan and Ashique Kuruniyan, they might even be partial favourites going into Friday’s game.
This Mumbai team, coached by former Portugal World Cupper Jorge Costa, is well organised in defence, and would take a lot of confidence from youngster Pranjal Bhumij’s late equaliser away to Kerala Blasters to get their campaign going at home.
The football festival comes to Kochi
The weekend is one of festivities and holidays around India, and Saturday features the Kerala Blasters at home against Delhi Dynamos, a game that always produces entertainment.
It could be a match where the youngsters on either side look to make a statement with their performances — goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh, full-back Mohammad Rakip and midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad for the home side will face up to attackers like Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nandhakumar and Shubham Sarangi in what should be a cauldron-like atmosphere.