ISL 2016 | Team previews, predictions, players to watch out for, and more

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© ISL Media

ISL 2016 | Team previews, predictions, players to watch out for, and more

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Amlan Majumdar


The glitz and glamor of the Indian Super League is back for its third edition, and with the AIFF's new road map for the Indian football placing ISL at the top of the pyramid, the league has gained more importance. Here is all you need to know about ISL 2016.

Chennaiyin, who defeated FC Goa last season in a controversial final, will be looking to defend their crown, but a lot of teams appear to have undergone massive changes in the summer, and are likely to pose a lot of threat to Marco Materazzi and his men.

Managers and Marquee players

 © SportsCafe

Atletico de Kolkata

 © © Indian Super League

A new manager and a new stadium – it is a new beginning for the inaugural season's champions. Antonio Habas has left for greener pastures, while the Salt Lake Stadium has been made inaccessible due to the upcoming U-17 World Cup in India. The club will play its home matches at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, whose capacity is just 22,000 compared to the 68,000 capacity of the Salt Lake Stadium.

Former Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper Jose Francisco Molina has been appointed at the helm of the club, and with him coming from the same school of coaching, there are unlikely to be too many changes in Atletico de Kolkata's style of play under him.

Last season, Kolkata finished second in the league stage of the tournament before being knocked out by eventual winners Chennaiyin FC in the semifinal. It was a strong performance from a team which had to play all the games, barring one, without their marquee player Helder Postiga. The Portuguese striker will hope to continue from where he left off in the opening game of the last season, where he scored two goals before being stretchered off the pitch, and with Iain Hume along his side, they form one of the most dangerous attacking pairs in the league.

They have retained most of their foreign players from last season, including the impressive Sameehg Doutie, while the addition of former Scottish international Stephen Pearson and Bikramjit Singh has further strengthened the midfield. They are expected to make it to the knockout stages once again.

Prediction: Semifinalist

Chennaiyin FC

 © Getty Images

Stiven Mendoza won both the Hero of the League and the Golden Boot awards last season as Chennaiyin went on to win their first ISL title. This time, though, they will be without the Colombian forward, who has joined the MLS club New York City on loan. To add to their woes, Brazilian playmaker Elano has returned to his childhood club, Santos. The duo have scored a combined total of 29 of the 59 goals scored by Chennaiyin so far since the ISL began in 2014, and replacing them in the squad might be a big task, even for someone like Marco Materazzi.

Thankfully, Chennaiyin already have a man who can take up Elano's role in the squad—Raphael Augusto. The Brazilian has not been a regular starter in the team, but now with Elano out of the squad, he is expected to be the focal point of Chennaiyin's attack. Replacing Mendoza, though, will be a harder task, and if the preseasons are anything to go by, Italian forward Davide Succi could be the man. He is unlikely to score as frequently as the Colombian, and Augusto will have to share his goalscoring responsibility. With the arrival of John Arne Riise in the squad, Elano won't be missed from set-piece situations, but it will be interesting to see if Materazzi decides to use him in the midfield.

However, the defending champions might struggle to defend their crown this time, and with a lot of teams catching up, it might not be surprising to see them miss out on a spot in the semis.

Prediction: 5th

Mumbai City FC

 © Getty Images

The Mumbai team have turned out to be the biggest disappointment so far in the opening two seasons. Despite housing so many big names and stars, the Ranbir Kapoor and Bimal Parekh-owned team has always flattered to deceive. Off-the-field issues, dressing room fights, rogue managers, and players—it has been nothing short of a soap opera so far.

Last season, Nicolas Anelka grabbed more headlines in his press conferences, than his team did on the field. The man who has replaced Anelka at the helm, Alexandre Guimarães, is infinitely more experienced than the Frenchman in managing teams. Having been in the business for the last 22 years, Guimarães could be the man who finally helps Mumbai fulfil its potential.

The Mumbai club have strengthened their squad considerably with the likes of Jackichand Singh, Pronay Halder, and Amrinder Singh being added to the squad, however, former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan's arrival is what has grabbed everyone's attention. His partnership with Sunil Chhetri upfront could prove to be the best in the league.

Mumbai boast of a squad which is capable of winning the league, and if their preseason results in UAE are anything to go by, they could very well upset the apple cart at the top.

Prediction: Semifinalist

FC Pune City

 © ISL Website

Pune have run into trouble even before the season began for them. Their star signing Eidur Gudjohnsen has been ruled out for this season after picking up an ankle injury, while midfielder Andre Bikey is also unlikely to feature for the club after injuring his left thigh. Pune are yet to announce a replacement for Gudjohnsen, and with time running out before the league kicks off, they are in a spot of bother at the moment.

Their new manager Antonio Lopez Habas has managed to take Kolkata into the knockout stages on both the occasions, including winning the tournament in the inaugural season, but it will be a massive task for the Spaniard to maintain that impressive record with this Pune squad. They had finished sixth and seventh respectively in the opening two seasons, and another disappointing campaign awaits them this time around.

Prediction: 8th

FC Goa

 © FC Goa media

Goa have made the least number of changes to their squad this summer. They have managed to retain the core of the side which lost to Chennaiyin in a thrilling final last season, along with mercurial manager Zico. The likes of Lucio, Jofre, Romeo Fernandes, and Mandar Rao Desai will once again form the backbone of the side, and their attack has been further strengthened by the arrival of Indian international Robin Singh.

The former Delhi Dynamos forward has struggled with injuries recently, and he will be eager to prove himself once again. Their depth of quality Indian players in the squad has been furthered elevated by the addition of Denzil Franco and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, and they are expected to churn out consistent performances like they have done in the previous two seasons.

Prediction: Semifinalist

Delhi Dynamos

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From one of the best left backs to one of the best right backs of the last decade—Delhi Dynamos' fascination with fullbacks continue. Roberto Carlos has been replaced by World Cup-winnerGianluca Zambrotta at the helm, and like Carlos before him, the Italian has limited experience of managing a club. He did not have a good time at the Swiss club Chiasso, and this stint could make or break his young managerial career.

After missing out on a semifinal spot in the first season by a solitary point, Delhi reached the semis last time around. They have made a slew of important additions to the squad, and Zambrotta has made it clear that they will be gunning for the title again. Two former Real Madrid players have joined the squad—defender Ruben Rocha will strengthen the defence considerably, while Marcos Tebar will add a bit to flair to the midfield, which already has Florent Malouda. The signing of Kean Lewis, the talented 24-year-old Mohun Bagan midfielder, will also add a lot of spark.

However, Zambrotta's inexperience could prove to be a hindrance in a league which now houses some brilliant tactical minds. Moreover, losing Robin Singh, Anwar Ali, and Hans Mulder—their three pillars in the attack, midfielder, and defence respectively from last season—could prove to be a major setback. They are unlikely to repeat their semifinal appearance from last season this time around.

Prediction: 6th

NorthEast United

 © Mohun Bagan Facebook

After a disappointing opening season, where they finished at the bottom of the table, NorthEast United showed a lot of improvement last season as they missed out on a semifinal spot by 2 points. However, this season did not begin on a good note for the club in Guwahati. They lost their manager Sergio Farias just two months after his appearance, as he unceremoniously returned to Thailand to reunite with his former club. He was, eventually, replaced by former Portugal manager Nelo Vingada. The 63-year-old has an experience of managing teams for the last 35 years, and he has managed a host of national teams in his career—from Portugal to Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Jordan to Iran.

There has been a massive clear-out sale in the summer for NorthEast, and the squad has undergone a lot of changes. One of the biggest signings of the summer has been the acquisition of the services of Mohun Bagan star Katsumi Yusa, and the Japanese international could make a massive impact. NorthEast United could finally cross the line this time, especially with such an established manager at the helm.

Prediction: Semifinalist

Kerala Blasters

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After reaching the final of the inaugural season, Kerala Blasters finished at the bottom of the league table last year. Iain Hume's departure left them in a disarray, while the defence leaked goals from everywhere. Their manager was sacked midway through the season amid a lot of protest from the fans in what was a campaign to forget.

Terry Phelan has been replaced by Steve Coppell this season, and the former Manchester United winger has a tough task in his hands. The arrival of their marque player Aaron Hughes and Rino Anto from Atletico de Kolkata means Kerala, who have also retained Sandesh Jhingan, will have one of the best defences in the league on paper this season. However, there remain areas of concern. They were too dependent on Josu to provide creativity at the center of the park last season, while Mehtab Hossain, at the age of 34, has lost his ability to cover the ground at pace.

This could turn out to be another difficult season for the vociferous Kerala supporters.

Prediction: 7th

Five players to watch-out for:

1. Katsumi Yusa – The Mohun Bagan star's work rate and drive have already made it to the folklores among the Bagan supporters, and he can walk into the starting eleven of any Indian club at the moment. NorthEast United will heavily depend on him and rarely does he disappoint.

2. Helder Postiga – The Portuguese striker's debut season was marred by injuries, and he will have a lot to prove this season alongside Iain Hume at the front for Atletico de Kolkata.

3. Keane Lewis – Once on trial at current EPL champions Leicester City, the 24-year-old has impressed whenever he has received the opportunity to start at Mohun Bagan. This Tata Football Academy product can enjoy a breakthrough season at Delhi Dynamos this time around.

4. Amrinder Singh – The Bengaluru FC custodian will miss the opening few matches of Mumbai with the Blues still being involved in the AFC Cup. However, the 23-year-old will get his chance to shine in the ISL, and considering his form currently, he could prove to be the best goalkeeper in the league.

5. Davide Succi – The 34-year-old veteran has played for 10 different clubs throughout his career so far, with his most memorable spell coming with Ravenna almost eight years back. He has big shoes to fill this season for Chennaiyin FC, and his preseason form shows that he might just be up for it.

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