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ISL 2016 mid-season report card – What the teams are doing right and what are they doing wrong?

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ISL 2016 mid-season report card – What the teams are doing right and what are they doing wrong?

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Amlan Majumdar

11/12/2016

As we head towards the business end of the ISL season, only 2 points separate the fourth placed team from the one at the bottom. With the competition tougher than ever, we take a look at the performances of all the 8 teams so far, and predict where they are likely to finish.

Delhi Dynamos

Positives – The team is at the top of the table and at the moment, they are looking like the most well-rounded team in the league. There were some questions raised about the appointment of Gianluca Zambrotta, considering his limited experience in management, however, the Italian has proved his worth so far. The former Juventus star has taken Roberto Carlos’ defensively solid team, and he has added a lot of flair to it.

They are currently the top-scorers in the league with 16 goals in 9 games—nearly double of what their nearest competitors have managed. Apart from the blip in Kolkata, they have convincingly performed against every team so far. Marcelo, arguably the player of the season so far, has been in stunning form with 5 goals and 4 assists in 9 outings, while Florent Malouda and Richard Gadze have supported him well in attack. Add to their attacking prowess, Delhi have conceded just 2 goals in their last 4 matches with Ruben Rocha and Anas Edathodika’s partnership blossoming at the back.

Negatives – From their remaining 5 games in the league stages, 3 of those matches are away from home, and they have already dropped points against Kerala and Kolkata on the roads. Add to that, Delhi’s squad depth is not too impressive. Zambrotta will have to hope that the trio of Malouda, Marcelo, and Gadze remain fit throughout the tournament, or we can see a dip in their performances.

Prediction – Group stage winner

Mumbai City FC

Positives – Defensively they have been one of the best teams in the league and a big chunk of the credits for that goes to their Romanian defender Lucian Goian. The center back tops the chart for best tacklers in the league and thanks largely to his leadership at the back, Mumbai have been able to keep 4 clean sheets so far—the most in the league. Since the dramatic 3-3 draw with Delhi, they have conceded just 3 goals in their last 5 matches. Alexandre Guimaraes’ side have also been very good on the roads as well. They have lost just 1 of their 6 away games so far.

Negatives – They might be placed at the second spot on the points table right now, but they are likely to drop down very fast as every other team have matches in hand. Moreover, their home form has not been desirable having won just 1 of their 4 matches in their own backyard. Three of their remaining four games will be played at home, and Guimaraes will hope that they can improve their record at the Mumbai Football Arena.

The Mumbai-based side are also struggling to score goals at the moment. They have found the net only thrice in their last 5 games, and the disappointing form of their marquee player Diego Forlan is not helping their cause. The former Manchester United striker is visibly struggling with his fitness, and the hot and humid conditions are taking a toll on him. They will hope that the return of Sunil Chhetri could provide them with a bit more threat up front. Leo Costa is proving to be another poor signing with Brazilian failing to have the impact Mumbai would have hoped for. There is hardly any creativity in the midfield right now. They have had just 33 attempts on target in their 10 games and only Kerala have lower shots on target per game ratio.

Prediction - 4th

Atletico de Kolkata

Positives – Jose Francisco Molina’s side have been good away from home apart from that recent loss in Pune—their only defeat on the road so far. The rise of the extremely talented Bidyananda Singh has been a big plus for them. The youngster has impressed every time he has been on the pitch and could possibly feature regularly in the starting lineup.

Midfielder Javi Lara’s performance has been crucial this season so far them. The Spaniard’s absence from the starting lineup was hugely felt in their 2-1 defeat at Pune. He has been the source of creativity for the Sourav Ganguly-owned side, and Molina will hope that he retains his fitness as we head towards the business end of the season.

They are currently four points behind the league leaders Delhi but with a game in hand. Also the fact that, they have a couple of easy fixtures lined up—at home against Kerala and Pune—towards the end of the group stages holds them in good stead.

Negatives – The inaugural champions have not been playing at the Salt Lake Stadium this season due to the upcoming U-17 World Cup in India and that seemed to have affected their home form. Kolkata have won only one of their four home matches so far at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium and they will need to improve on that if they are to remain in the playoff spots.

Under Antonio Habas, Kolkata were a defensively solid unit. However, that solidity seems to be absent so far this season. They have kept only 2 clean sheets and their experienced defender Arnab Mondal has not been at his best. It will take some time for him to develop an understanding with his new partner Henrique Fonseca Sereno.

Iain Hume’s form has been another concern for them. The Canadian has blown hot and cold so far. He has not been at his lethal best like he was in the previous two seasons. Add to that, Postiga is also yet to hit the ground running. Kolkata have the second highest shots on target per match average, but their finishing has not been up to the mark. Even Sameehg Doutie has failed to be consistent with his performances in the attack. However, this attack still remains one of the best on paper in the league, and they will hope to come good as we head into a crucial juncture of the season.

Prediction - 2nd

FC Pune City

Positives – There have been some fine individual performances for Pune this season and Edel Bete tops the chart. The goalkeeper, who has won two ISLs so far, has once again been brilliant between the sticks for Pune and is leading the most saves made stat table. Mohamed Sissoko has settled down well in his debut season and has protected the back four with aplomb. Jonatan Lucca has been the heartbeat in the midfield with surging runs into the box and winning balls in the middle of the park. Similarly, both the fullbacks Rahul Bheke and Narayan Das have been in good form, although, they did take a bit of time to adjust to the new tactics under Antonio Habas. Their overall form is on the rise at the moment with two impressive back-to-back victories, and like most of the teams so far this season, they have been brilliant on the road.

Negatives – They did replace Eidur Gudjohnsen, who had to pull out of the tournament due to an injury, with Sissoko as their marquee player, but they could not replace a goalscorer. The likes of Anibal Rodriguez and Dramane Traore have failed to find the back of the net with any consistency, and they have had to depend on the midfielders to score the goals. There is also a lack of creativity in the center of the park with Lucca and Tato being the only players who seem to have the ability to unlock defenses with their passing. They will hope that the return of Eugeneson Lyngdoh can address that problem.

One of the biggest worries for Pune so far this season has been their dismal home form. They have won just one, which arrived in their last game against Kolkata, of the six matches they have played at the Balewadi Stadium. Thankfully, they have just one more home game left this season in the group stages.

Prediction - 3rd

Kerala Blasters FC

Positives – Kerala have recovered well after a dismal start to their season. Their hard-fought win over Mumbai had turned their fortunes. The return of CK Vineeth after his AFC Cup campaign with Bengaluru FC has added a new dimension to their attack, and he marked his return by scoring a late winner against FC Goa in their last game.

Defensively, Kerala have been the best team in the league. Veteran defender Cedric Hengbart has been leading the defence from the back while Sandesh Jhingan is getting close to his best with every passing match.

NegativesJosu has been given a new role this season at the left back, and that is a vulnerability that might be exposed. The Spaniard is not a natural defender, and his absence from the midfield has affected the creativity of the team. Kerala have had just 27 shots on target in their 9 matches—the lowest in the league.

Moreover, the finishing of Kervens Belfort and Mohamed Rafi has left a lot to be desired. Kerala have scored just 6 goals in 9 matches so far, which is the worst goal scoring record among the 8 teams. Hopefully, Vineeth’s return will help them improve on that stat.

Prediction - 6th

NorthEast United FC

PositivesEmiliano Alfaro has been a revelation for his side this season. The forward is currently the top goal scorer in the league alongside Marcelo of Delhi, and he has been leading the forward line with style. Nico Velez’s return from injury is also a big positive for the side, although he did look a bit rusty in the 2-1 defeat against Goa.

The style of football Nelo Vingada has implemented has appealed to the purist. There is a lot of pace in the team, and Robert Cullen looks like a really good find for them. The Japanese impressed in his last appearance against Goa and could push for a regular place in the starting lineup.

Negatives - At the start of the season, NorthEast were playing the most eye-pleasing football in the league and while that might still be the case, results have not gone their way recently. They are currently on a 4-match losing streak and all the confidence and swagger of the initial stage has been sapped out of the team.

They have scored just 4 goals in their last 7 games and one of the reasons for that is the reduced influence of their star midfielder Katsumi Yusa. Other teams are marking the Mohun Bagan midfielder out of the game, and he has come under some harsh treatment on the field. Didier Zokora has also seen a dip in his form and NorthEast are losing most of the battles in the midfield.

The Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati used to be a fortress for the side, but they have now lost three matches in a row at home. They will need to significantly improve on that if they are to qualify for the knockouts.

Prediction - 7th

Chennaiyin FC

Positives – There have not been a lot of positives for the defending champions this season, with the exception of Raphael Augusto . The midfielder has been at the heart of everything good for the Marina Machans. The recent form of their striker Jeje Lalpekhlua also looks promising, and Marco Materazzi will hope that he can lead them to better results in upcoming games.

Negatives – The Chennaiyin defence is leaking too many goals at the moment. In fact, Delhi have scored 7 goals in their two matches against Chennaiyin this season. Bernard Mendy looks more interested in joining the attack than defending at the back, and more some reason Materazzi is holding him back. He has struggled to form any understanding with his new partner Eli Sabla at the heart of the Chennaiyin defence, and that is hurting them.

Replacing Elano and Stiven Mendoza was always going to be a huge task for the defending champions, and the two strikers upfront—Dudu Omagbeni and Davide Succi have failed to do so. In the midfield, Siam Hanghal has been inconsistent, while Hans Mulder seemed to have lost his shooting boots.

Prediction - 5th

FC Goa

Positives – Rafael Coelho and Richarlyson Felisbino have been the only bright spots for the Goan side. The duo have not received too much support from the players around them so far, but if Goa are to turn their season around, these two players will surely have a big say in that.

Negatives – Nearly everything has gone wrong for the last year’s finalists. Injuries and suspension has ravaged the squad, and Goa had just four substitutes on the bench in their last game against NorthEast United. Disciplinary problems have always haunted Zico’s men, and every year they seem to find new ways to get themselves in trouble. In 10 matches so far, Goa have picked up 30 yellow cards and 4 red cards!

The Fatorda stadium no longer looks like the fortress it was, and Goa have lost all their 3 matches so far at the stadium. They are struggling to score goals and they have the worst defensive record—14 in 10 games—in the league. Robin Singh is struggling up front, while their dynamic duo Mandar Rao Dessai and Romeo Fernandes have failed to replicate their last season's form.

Prediction - 8th

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