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ISL 2016 | Who can make it to the playoffs and how

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Faizan Qadiri

11/29/2016

What a season it has been so far! Mumbai City FC have qualified for the knockouts for the first time in three attempts and they have done it in some style with a game to spare. Their defence looks rock solid and when they get it right offensively it can be a rout. Just ask any Kerala Blasters fan.

So the question is who will join Mumbai in the last four of the competition. Here we will take a look at all the possible scenarios that the teams will have to hope for, if they want to win the ISL trophy.

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8. FC Goa [ Chennai (H) ]

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Goa have endured a torrid season so far, and not even the rules of Mathematics can give them any sort of hope. Even if they win their remaining game, they can manage a total of 14 points which is one short of seventh-placed Chennaiyin FC.

After the heights of ISL-2, Goa and Zico, if he stays there next season, will need to rethink their signings for the next season having scored just 10 goals so far which dwarves the 29 they scored last season. Since last season's final, Goa have had the worse discipline in the league having picked up 33 bookings to go with 4 reds in this season - that is also something that the team will have to work on. A season to forget for last season's table toppers.

7. Chennaiyin FC [ FC Goa(A) ]

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The reigning Champions, too, have fallen well short of the usual expectations this season. In their 12 games so far they have scored only 15 goals, 9 goals short of last season's total.

Chennai took the lead thrice in the last game, against NorthEast, but a goal deep into injury time was like a dagger to their heart. However, all is not lost for the team from South India. They would, obviously, need to win their game, to take their points tally to 18, and stand a chance of qualifying for a third consecutive semi-final. The major advantage they hold is a better head to head record against Pune, NorthEast and Kerala. Therefore, if they finish level on points with any of these teams, Chennai would qualify for the playoffs.

The form guide does not paint a pretty picture of the champions though as they have won just 1 out of the last 9 games. Unless they can find an unlikely hero, Chennai will struggle to make it into the playoff spots this time.

6. FC Pune City [Atletico de Kolkata (A)]

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The defeat to Kerala was the final nail in their coffin as they now sit in sixth place three points off the top 4. They come out second, in the head to heads between all the teams they are competing with for the playoffs. Pune can manage only 18 points, that too if they beat Atletico in Kolkata.

It appears the fat lady has sung and it's time for Pune to prepare for the next season because they need a mathematical wonder to get them into the playoffs. Pune needed the Chennai-NorthEast game to end in a draw, which happened thanks to a last-minute equalizer. Now they need a Delhi win against NorthEast, which looks likely as well. After that, they have to hope for a loss for NorthEast against Kerala. And we are still not done because for Pune to qualify, Kerala would then have to beat Atletico in Kolkata. If all this happens, then Pune have the small task of beating Kolkata in Bengal to qualify.

A lot of things went wrong for them this season. From Arata Izumi's injury to Eugeneson Lyngdoh's Bengaluru commitments, everything that could go wrong went wrong for them in this edition. In Antonio Habas, they have a great manager who is capable to getting them to the playoffs easily but he needs another season. The groundwork has been laid and a few choice signings next season could make them a real force to be reckoned with. But, who knows? Habas might do it this time itself.

5. NorthEast United FC [ Delhi Dynamos (H), Kerala Blasters (A)]

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NorthEast United started the season really well winning 3 of their opening 4 games, but since then they have managed just one win. The advantage for the team is that they have their fortune in their own hands because if they win the two games in hand they will qualify for the semi-finals.

As far as their record against other teams is concerned, they have a 2-0 aggregate lead over Pune and have beaten Kerala in the first match. However, Chennaiyin hold the upper hand in the duel between the two sides having a 4-3 aggregate lead. If they are able to pull off wins over Delhi and Kerala, they will cross the 20 point mark that usually guarantees playoff qualification. Their next game against Delhi, therefore, becomes a must win now but even a draw would not be disastrous. It would be a huge ask, however, as NorthEast would need either Kerala or Atletico to lose both of their remaining games.

Their last-minute draw against Chennai would definitely serve as morale-booster and hold them in good stead as they prepare for the upcoming games.

4. Kerala Blasters FC [ Atletico de Kolkata (A) NorthEast United FC (H)]

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What a ride it has been for the Blasters this season!! They had an average start to the season but it is their incredible home form that has made sure that they find themselves in a comfortable position come the end of the group campaign. 4 wins in a row at home with a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Mumbai sandwiched between them, but the win against Pune has put them in the driving seat for qualification.

Their next game will be the all-important clash against the only team to have beaten them at home this season, Atletico de Kolkata - a team that has the same number of points. A draw would see the Kolkata side remain ahead of their opponents on the basis of a better aggregate score over the two legs.

Their next game against the NorthEast could be a dead rubber game as well depending on the result of the Guwahati-based team's results. With Aaron Hughes back and their excellent home record, making it to the final for a second time in three years is not an unlikely dream anymore.

3. Atletico de Kolkata [Kerala Blasters (H), Pune City FC(H) ]

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Had anyone offered Kolkata a scenario with two games to go, both of them at home, with 18 points on the board, they would have taken it with a smile at the start of the season. They haven't been at their very best this season but could become the only team that has made it to the playoffs in every ISL season.

A draw against Kerala would eliminate Pune from the running while a win would see them move clear of the NorthEast challenge. One win is all they need to ensure qualification but even a draw against Kerala would put them in a very comfortable position. A double loss, however, would be bye bye to another semi-final place loss if both Kerala and NEUFC win all their matches. That is the only way they fail to make it to the playoffs.

The last game against Pune will be an interesting one - if they lose the Kerala game, Habas will return to Kolkata for the first time since he switched allegiances. the Pune game could be a race for the top-four finish, depending on other results.

2. Delhi Dynamos [ NorthEast United (A), FC Mumbai City (A)]

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Along with Mumbai, they are the most watchable team in the league. They turned on the style against FC Goa putting five past the last placed team in the league. They have scored an incredible 26 goals in just 12 games this season, a feat they had never achieved before. The combination of Kean Lewis, Florent Malouda and Marcelinho has been breathtaking at times, and so the question is not if but rather when they will qualify.

Delhi need just a draw against NorthEast to guarantee a place in the semi-finals. However, if they get a negative result in Guwahati, the last game of the campaign is scheduled against Mumbai in the clash of the titans.

This is going to be a big ask for Delhi to mess it up now and barring that odd chance, they will make it to the final on Dec 18.

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