ISL musings: ATKMB, Mumbai City go in opposite directions; race for last two playoff spots heats up

ATKMB players Marcelinho, Roy Krishna and Subashish Bose celebrate a goal against Bengaluru. Deepak Malik / Sportzpics for ISL

Goals, eliminations, drama - the penultimate week of this season's ISL covered most bases as the action heated up on the pitch with the stakes high, leaving little room for errors.

Meanwhile, some teams still remain in the run for a playoffs place, the scenarios for which you can read about right here.

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This is Antonio Habas' league

And the rest merely play in it.

His ATK Mohun Bagan were brilliant in winning the ISL last season, but they did miss out on the top spot, and the AFC Champions League spot that comes with it. It seems to have hurt the man, who, this time around, is two games away from rectifying it.

Having spent the summer identifying and fixing key areas -- Sandesh Jhingan, Tiri, Subashish Bose, Manvir Singh were all brought in -- he spent January perfecting it -- hello, Marcelinho and Lenny Rodrigues. In between, he transformed them from functional 1-0 victories accompanied by the occasional dull loss, to a 'we can score when we want, how we want' machine. They have now won their last five games, scoring 13 goals in that period (they had scored 13 in the 13 matches that preceded this). ATKMB are peaking just when it is needed -- as you'd expect a Habas side to do. A win on Monday against Hyderabad will guarantee their top spot.

Mumbai City's late-onset amnesia

At the opposite end of the form spectrum are Mumbai City FC. After having spent the majority of the past three months playing their opponents off the park, they seem to have, all of a sudden, forgotten how to string four passes together. They have won just one of their last six games -- that too a come-from-behind win over the abject Kerala Blasters FC -- and have been thoroughly outplayed in most of them. Their defence has become fallible, their attack ineffectual and their midfield invisible. It's been a sharp, painful fall in form.

Hugo Boumous' tantrum and subsequent suspension hasn't helped Mumbai's cause but to go from a seemingly unassailable lead at the top of the table to not even being sure if they can take it to the last game is a collective failure that will hurt Sergio Lobera. It had been his team, FC Goa, who won the league shield last season without him. Now the chance to avenge that is out of his hands.

Three clubs fight to the finish

While the race to the top spot may have lost a bit of its lustre, the race for the last two playoff spots is going down to the wire. Goa are on 30 points having played 19 games. Hyderabad and NorthEast United FC are both on 27 having played 18. Goa and Hyderabad play each other on the penultimate day of the league stage. It's brilliant, and all three deserve to be in contention.

Hyderabad and NorthEast, written off and laughed at before the season began, have gone from strength to strength with a young Indian core, a sprinkling of quality foreign talent and two, sorry, three excellent coaches at the helm. Goa have recovered from being gutted pre-season (four of their key starters joined Mumbai City, others joined ATK Mohun Bagan and Jamshedpur FC, and even more left, including top-scorer and bonafide club legend Ferran Corominas) to build a Spanish-dominated core under a young, hungry coach. Whether they make the final four or not is firmly in their own hands, and considering how they came into the season, that's a win.

All this makes the final week of ISL 2020-21 well worth keeping an eye on.

Owen Coyle continues to impress

Mathematically, Jamshedpur FC can yet make it a four-horse race for those final two spots. They are on 24 points after 19 games and if a whole lot of stars align their way, they could yet make it to the playoffs.

Just being in contention, though, is a testament to the coaching prowess of Owen Coyle -- he of the Chennaiyin FC revolution circa 2020. With fairly limited resources, Coyle has moulded a team that plays the way he wants all his teams to -- quick-passing, fast-moving, attacking football that doesn't leave room for anyone to call them boring. They have their weaknesses -- the defence can be rash, the midfield can be erratic, the attack can misfire -- but they don't die wondering.

Even if they don't make it to the playoffs this year... give Coyle another year, and a decent budget, and Jamshedpur will surely be among the teams to watch out for next season.

Tame end to a disappointing season

Speaking of Chennaiyin, a season that held such promise petered out with a rather meaningless 1-1 draw against Kerala Blasters on Sunday. For a team that has been so entertaining all season, so full of running and chance-creation and all-out-attacking, the fact that they can finish bottom of the league in terms of goals scored (only East Bengal have scored fewer, and they have two games to go) should rankle.

If Chennaiyin keep their faith in Csaba Laszlo, addressing that major column should be priority number one. And two. And three. Seriously, give the man a goalscorer, will you?

Player of the week - Roy Krishna

Roy Krishna is player of the week. It's the boring, safe, predictable answer, but also the correct one.

Krishna has been magnificent all season, at times willing victories into being when his team seemed content to negate their way to 0-0 draws. He has scored 14 and assisted four of his team's 26 goals, and he's leading the race for the league's golden boot. His efficiency, and singular threat, were highlighted perfectly this week in the Kolkata derby -- the first goal was a masterclass in ball control and finishing, and he then proceeded to kill the game off with two intelligent assists. It's this combination of lethal goal-gathering and in-game awareness that makes him so un-defendable, and it's the biggest reason why his ATK Mohun Bagan are primed to win the whole thing.