Over the years, one of the biggest drawbacks of the Indian Super League (ISL) has been its scrappy matches. Teams looked disjointed, game play lacked rhythm. The coaches and players blamed the nature of the league for it – there was very little time for pre-season training and constant travel between games took its toll, they claimed.
The opening weekend of ISL’s breakthrough season — in which it has become the de facto first division – was more of the same. We had to wait till the third match on the third day for a goal after the first two match days that would’ve put you to sleep. But Sunday salvaged the situation. Goa and Chennaiyin played out a match that, maybe low on quality, had no dearth of goals or drama. Later, Bengaluru FC proved what was already known going into the fresh season – that they remain the team to beat.
Here’s a recap from the opening weekend:
On paper, Bengaluru boast of the strongest side in ISL. Albert Roca has some high quality players in his side, especially in the goalkeeping and striking areas. And against a defensively-strong Mumbai City, they were scrappy. Still, of the eight teams that made their season debuts, Bengaluru looked the most settled – mainly because they are the only ones who have been active for nearly three months owing to their AFC Cup commitments.
They dominated Mumbai in all departments to emerge 2-0 winners but the margin could’ve been bigger if they were clinical in the final third. Udanta Singh on the right troubled Mumbai defence with his pace, Miku — the league’s costliest player — had an impressive debut and Sunil Chhetri once again stole the show with an all-round performance.
Fellow debutants Jamshedpur FC, however, struggled in their opening match against North East United on Saturday. Guwahati has been a tough venue for travelling teams to get points so in that aspect, Jamshedpur will be happy to return with a point having played a goalless draw. But they looked out of their depth and Steve Coppell has his task cut out before another tough away trip to Kochi, where they will take on Kerala Blasters.
Goals, the lack of it
The most glaring aspect of the opening weekend was the poor quality in the attacking third. The understanding between players was missing, teammates weren’t able to anticipate each other’s movements, and strikers never got a good ball inside the box. That might change as the season progresses.
You could argue that FC Goa, who beat Chennaiyin 3-2, were an exception to the trend. They were swift in their counterattacks, with the two Goan boys – Brandon Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai – adding pace and variety to their attacks. But they were also made to look good by a pedestrian Chennaiyin back-line, which is a surprise because they have had one of the best defences over the years.
Overall, the coaches still seem to be finding the right combinations and systems to start – an area where Bengaluru had a head start over the others.