Jamshedpur FC’s third attempt in the ISL will be no different than a previous couple of seasons, having a new bunch of new faces in the squad. While some of the core players made their exit, the incoming Antonio Iriondo coach may find it difficult to find a blueprint for a successful season.
Performance last season
‘So close yet so far’ has been running parallel with Jamshedpur FC since marking its arrival in the Indian Super League a couple of years back. Going by the traditional formula, the management added Spanish flavour to the squad in an attempt to better the 5th position finish and sneak into the playoffs for the first time.
Even though Cesar Fernando gave a fresh tinge to the side and injected a more dynamic approach than erstwhile boss Steve Coppell, they were stuck in the same position at the end. Converting stalemates to wins was the missing piece in their puzzle as they split points in seven out of their 18 matches.
Finishing with an extra point was a negligible improvement where anything less than a top-four finish is a disappointing show in the cut-throat competition. The goal-scoring diminished even though they maintained the solidity in the defence. The management seemed to go the Spanish way once again making considerable changes in the roster.
Filling the gaps
The former Atletico de Madrid coach had its intentions clear - to play creative football, which was in accordance with with the playing style of Mario Arques, Sergio Cidoncha, Pablo Morgado and Tiri. Playing with intent was never their problem, but getting the ball past the goalkeeper was a major one. The management invested in Sergio Castel to replace the subdued striker Pablo Morgado who messed up along the way in the previous campaign.
While Mario Arques shouldered the burden of operating from the midfield all along, it will be a mammoth ask for incoming Aitor Monroy along with U17 World Cup sensation Amarjit Singh Kiyam to replicate the same. Workhorse Michael Soosairaj’s void was another area which should be healed before it becomes a pain. Spanish winger Piti was summoned to fill in the blank.
The mobility in the playmaking zone which worked like a well-oiled machine with the skills of Carlos Calvo and Sergio Cidoncha has been dismantled. With the duo migrating elsewhere, coach Antonio Irondo needs to formulate a unique strategy to maintain fluidity in the wings with a mix of Indian and foreign contingent.
The Spanish-Russian coach is new to the Indian circuit and his playing style is still a mystery in this part of the world, which can act as a catalyst and a unique selling proposition when the new season kicks-off, but it can turn the other way around too.
On the positive side, Jamshedpur FC will have the privilege of playing their first three games at home and that too against two of the latest additions to the league. An in-transit Odisha FC will be making its debut away to Jamshedpur FC on October 22, while Hyderabad FC will fly to the eastern city on October 29. Iriondo will use both the matches to get a hold of the strengths and weaknesses of the team and chalk out the best XI when Bengaluru FC visit the ‘Steel City’ early in November.
The stern test begins when they hit the road starting with neighbours ATK, then flying across to face a mighty FC Goa unit. A little respite awaits them in early December when a crippled Northeast United and two-time champions play back to back away matches to Jamshedpur FC.
Holding their nerves in the mid-season would be the key factor for Irondo’s side with crunch away matches lined-up- against new entrants Odisha FC, followed by Northeast United FC and the last one versus defending champions Bengaluru FC.
Jamshedpur FC cannot leave it late and need to secure points in the later stages of the ISL against Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC before their last fixture against FC Goa if they want to keep their hopes alive for a top-four finish.
Antonio Irondo is a coach who likes to shuffle around with his formation as seen in his previous stint with Rayo Majadahonda where he failed to pull out the Spanish club out of the relegation zone. It is unlikely that he would be able to seek initial success with his tactics in the league which has only 18 games. A couple of shaky games can derail a team in the race for the championship.
Most of the coaches have been around the Indian Super League for a while and has a better idea about the football played over here than the newcomer. The Spaniard will have his task cut out to field the best XI in the opening stages of the tournament.
Even if they manage to edge past some of the weaker teams in the league, they are not going to outwit settled and formidable units like FC Goa, Bengaluru FC, ATK and Kerala Blasters FC. Hence, Jamshedpur FC will finish at the seventh position in the league.