ISL 2019-20 | FC Goa’s craft, Bengaluru FC’s pace, or Mumbai City FC’s muscle –the best attack in ISL

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ISL 2019-20 | FC Goa’s craft, Bengaluru FC’s pace, or Mumbai City FC’s muscle –the best attack in ISL

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Subhayan Dutta

10/10/2019

Despite football surviving the test of time and undergoing imaginable changes in numerous aspects of it over the years, finding the perfect blend of a successful attacking line is still a mystery. Is it the physique of a player, finesse of a striker, or the creative genius of a No. 10? No one knows.

Over the decades, the sport has been graced with some of the most magical players in the attacking third, who has made scoring look more graceful than Mothra emerging out its cocoon, at times. 

Whether it was Milan’s Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, and Ruud Gullit, who won three consecutive Scudetto’s from 1991 to 1994, or the “Holy Trinity” of Manchester United - George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton, or Barcelona’s last great attacking line of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez, who had tallied astronomical 120 goals in 2015 – football’s history has been littered with examples that’s sufficient to draw an impeccable blueprint for any club to customize their forward line as and how desired.

But, one still sees clubs struggling desperately during transfer windows to find names. While one big reason could be that magic cannot be engineered – it just happens, the other is the utter failure of “Moneyball” concept in football on numerous occasions; hence the never-ending loop of trial and error.

Attempting to find out the best attack in the upcoming Indian Super League, however, wasn’t that futile for it was both difficult and easy at the same time. Easy because the number of retained proven names from previous seasons have been higher, and difficult because the continuously evolving nature of the tournament has been making it immensely unpredictable now.

Attacking Trend in ISL so far 

If looked at the previous champions of the tournament – ATK, Chennaiyin FC, and Bengaluru FC – their methods have seemed irrational and irresolute, thereby painting a very obscure picture to be honest. While an unassuming Fikru Lamesa and Luis Garcia helped ATK win the title in the first season, it was Iain Hume and Javi Lara doing the same thing for the second year. Chennaiyin FC had seen Stiven Mendoza and Elano winning them their maiden title, while Jeje Lalpekhlua and Rene Mihelic repeated it after a one year gap. 

However, quite interestingly, both the double winners couldn’t finish the season on top in any of their title-winning seasons and barring Mendoza in 2016, neither ATK or Chennaiyin’s star forwards ended up as the top goal-scorers in their respective victorious seasons as well. In fact, before Carles Cuadrat went on a domineering run through the entire last season with Sunil Chhetri, Miku Fedor, and Udanta Singh and won the league, Indian Super League hadn’t really seen such a predictable campaign in its history of six years.

It is, hence, crystal clear that having the best possible attacking line-up hasn’t been a necessary ingredient in winning the ISL. However, the yet existing obsession to build a super forward line, one that would have huge names as well, found in ISL is almost criminal.

Characteristics feature of successful ISL forwards

If one looked at the likes of Mendoza, Lamesa, and Miku – who have all played a crucial role in their sides’ title-winning seasons - then ISL has evidently been favouring the physically superior forwards in the central role throughout its brief history and this time shouldn’t be any different. 

To further compliment the spearhead up top, a group of pacey wingers have been found to be the pre-requisite, along with a deep-lying playmaker, who apart from creating would come in handy defensively as well. Hence, these are the four positions that would need to go under the lens to discern ISL’s best offence next season. 

The Musclemen

If gone sheerly by one’s brute strength, then the likes of Mumbai City FC’s Mododu Sougou and Pablo  Machado would top the table. Throw a vibrant Diego Carlos into the mix, and the team has a powerful forward line that could run over most of the ISL defence. However, this seemingly exciting blend of pace and physicality lacks one major thing – precision. Letting go of Arnold Issoko has been almost unforgivable for the Island city and although a certain Amine Chermiti has been brought in to hold the mast steady in the attacking third, Jorge Costa wouldn’t really rely on him much for the same.

  Modou Sougou

The Craftsmen

If there’s one team, who has been made football look beautiful and seamless in the last two seasons, it has to be FC Goa. Sergio Lobera’s patient buildup and unwillingness to compromise on his philosophy has been praiseworthy, and the Gaurs have brilliantly bought into his philosophy regardless of the players present on the field. Hence, fans haven’t found the slightest of glitches in the likes of Jackichand Singh and Brandon Fernandes playing alongside Ferran Corominas and Edu Garcia. However, Bengaluru FC have proven time and again that when Goa have been asked to negotiate a dynamically defending and counter-attacking opponent, their sanity has been shaken.

The Experimental ones

There can only be so many good players available in the market and with some clubs exercising their financial muscle to skim off the creamy layer, most ISL clubs are left with the option of getting unknown names having familiar traits of a full-proven ISL forwards. The likes of Chennaiyin FC, Odisha FC, and NorthEast United FC could be clubbed into this category.

With the above three clubs approaching the new season either at the back of a horrible previous season or an even horrible transfer window, the only left with them has been to experiment with a new clutch of players – some famous, some not. Hence, while the names of Nerijus Valskis, Andre Schembri, Aridane Santana, Asamoah Gyan, Martin Chaves, and Maximiliano Barreiro aren’t likely to have fans on the edge of their seats, one can’t really assure they wouldn’t become big names in the tournament this season.

The Middling floaters

This is a very common category of forward line found in ISL, although not in great numbers as much as it is repetitive. The reason is quite simple – not every side is playing to win the title. This time, we could put new entrant Hyderabad FC and three-year-old Jamshedpur FC into this group.

In the likes of CK VIneeth, Farukh Chowhdray, and Sergio Castel, Antonio Iriondo might see some glittery evenings under the Indian sky over the next five months, but even he would admit that it’s not a title-winning squad.

Another manager, who took over a new club only in the fag end of last season, is Phil Brown. With the franchise relocated and renamed from FC Pune City to Hyderabad FC now, Brown would need to rethink quite a few things and the trio of Bobô, Marcelinho, Robin Singh, and Giles Barnes, despite the handful of quality that they are, would hardly be a threat to robust backlines.

The Complete few

There are only few sides in this season’s ISL, who could boast of an attacking line-up that can adapt to opponent’s defensive traps if and when needed to emerge victorious on the other side. They aren’t the one-trick ponies but posses either extreme qualities or variegated options in the attacking third to get the job done. By the looks of it, it would be Bengaluru FC ATK, and Kerala Blasters FC. A proper striker, dynamic wingers, and a number 10 – they have it all and the better ones in every role. 

While BFC were fully aware of their inability to replace a towering Miku with Chhetri in the centre-forward role, they have stuffed that zone up with a certain Ashique Kuruniyan and Raphael Ausguto to offer a totally different dimension, one that the ISL is yet to witness. Kurunyian and Udanta Singh’s pace, Chhetri’s finishing buoyed by Augusto’s Samba skills in the playmaking role looks unparalleled.

Kerala Blasters and ATK, on the hand, have gone a different way altogether way. While BFC have chosen to upgrade their attack from last season, the other two decided to totally uproot their old one and plant in new hybrid seeds. When the likes of Halicharan Narzary, Sergio Cidoncha, and Sahal Abdul Samad decide to support Bartholomew Ogbeche under Eelco Schattorie’s masterful strategies, we should be expecting something special.

ATK take the holistic definition of an attack to a whole new level. Getting the MVP from last season’s A-league, Roy Krishna, was the first signal of intent from the two-time champions. But, they didn’t stop at that and brought in his partner David Williams as well, with whom Krishna has shared brilliant chemistry.

To further bolster their support, they added Michael Soosairaj and Jobby Justin on the flanks, which was already rich with Komal Thatal and Jayesh Rane. If the unparalleled pace and muscle up top wasn’t enough, ATK also have a seasoned Edu Garcia in the number 10 position, who could both score and provide as and when needed. However, the most complete of attacks failing in football has practically been a cliche and absolutely no one would surprised if the feat is repeated again. 

So many combinations, so many possibilities, and yet no one can put their finger on one knowing well in their heart that it’s the best.  One could club the attacks into various categories but it wouldn’t still amount to any conclusion. And that’s what football is all about – there is never the satisfaction of perfection.

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