Hyderabad FC finally relinquished their lead at the top of the Indian Super League in week seven, with Mumbai City FC now leading the charge towards the league shield, though the teams behind them are also finding form. We reflect on the latest round of fixtures.
The wheels come off Hyderabad's title-charge
ATK Mohun Bagan's 1-0 win over Hyderabad FC ought to be about the hosts, but in truth, this was the most uncharacteristic of performances from last year's champions. Chinglensana Singh, normally the picture of calm at the back, looked panicked throughout, while Odei Onaindia had multiple instances of losing his man in threatening situations. Bart Ogbeche, perhaps the most genial human to have ever played the ISL, lost his head late on in frustration while Javi Siverio, normally so clutch late on, spurned a gilt-edged chance.
To top it all off, Manolo Marquez, who's usually quite friendly with Juan Ferrando when the pair meet, exchanged some strong words after the match with his compatriot. Not the best of nights then for Hyderabad. So what changed?
Laxmikant Kattimani's absence is a big one, but perhaps the truth is to be found up-front. Hyderabad's miserly defence is far and away the best in the land, and they're also creating at a similar rate as last season. The problem (and this is sacrilege, I know) is Ogbeche. The veteran is underperforming his xG by quite some margin and his only two goals have come against Bengaluru FC and NorthEast. He's gone five games (359 minutes) without a goal and isn't exactly creating much either as a #10.
Yes, Hyderabad are only two points off the top, but the trends are there - Marquez might need to tweak some things if Hyderabad are to maintain their challenge. ATKMB are only three points behind with a game in hand - what looked like a comfortable romp to the title a couple of weeks ago no longer is.
Des Buckingham's Mumbai City are finally peaking - but will it be cut short?
Fourteen months in, Des Buckingham finally seems to have corrected the balance of his team -- and it coincided with a 3-1 win away to NorthEast United that sent Mumbai to the top of the table. Yes, the hosts had their fair share of chances, which will always be the case with any opponent as long as Buckingham opts for his aggressive brand of football. Yet, there is a quiet assurance about Mumbai this season -- not in the least because they've scored ten goals more than any other team this season.
Even when Parthib Gogoi equallised for NorthEast there wasn't any hint of panic in the Mumbai side. The visitors almost wrestled the lead back seconds later, and when it did arrive, courtesy Bipin Singh ten minutes later, there was an air of inevitability about it. The gentlest of kisses on Bipin's forehead from his manager was peak r/footbaww material. And right as it seems as if everything is rosy in the Mumbai City camp, reports emerged that Buckingham may be promoted to the head coach role at Melbourne City, part of the City Football Group's manouverings. It would be a shame to lose Buckingham from Indian football, but with Patrick Kisnorbo's history-making exit from the A-League table-toppers, and Buckingham's previous stint with the club, it seems quite the possibility.
- Mumbai City FC (@MumbaiCityFC) November 27, 2022
Maybe it would disrupt Mumbai's title charge, but CFG already have another ready-made replacement in their ranks - Sergio Lobera, who's not exactly doing bits with Sichuan Jiuniu in the Chinese second division (they are sixth and 26 points behind the league leaders).
Odisha continue to be ISL's comeback kings
Odisha's 3-2 win over Chennaiyin FC was one of those games that will live long in the memory, with an 'iffy' (that's as polite as I can be) penalty awarded, and converted, in injury time - before a late Nandhakumar Sekar screamer gave the hosts the win in the eighth minute of injury time. Odisha are now three points behind league leaders Mumbai City, with a game in hand.
Incredibly, in four of their five wins this season, Josep Gombau's side have had to shrug off the disappointment of conceding before grabbing the winner. They've overcome 0-2 deficits twice and surprisingly, this game was only the second time in seven games that they'd taken the lead from the start. Nasser El Khayati popped up with another magical cameo late on and nearly took the game away with his brace, but Odisha always seemed to have the answer. For a team that's close to the top, Gombau's side don't exactly have league-leading stats in any category. They are massively outperforming their xG, but when their ability to stare defeat in the face and overcome it keeps coming to the fore, why worry? You cannot quantify this quality (xComeback, anyone?). Odisha remain a dark horse to achieve big things this season, and if they do, you can bet this will be why.
Bengaluru FC buck the trend
On paper, this ought to have been an easy win for FC Goa. They came into this game on the back of a 3-0 win over ATK Mohun Bagan, while BFC had just suffered a 0-4 evisceration at the hands of Mumbai. Sunil Chhetri was left on the bench once more, and Goa went on to dominate possession, having 72% of the ball, outpassing BFC 484 - 151, while having twice as many shots on goal (14-7). And yet, at the end of 90 minutes, Simon Grayson's side ended their four-match losing streak to win 2-0 at the Fatorda.
BFC's need for Javi Hernandez has always been attributed to his creative side, but it was his finishing that was on display here. Two very cultured finishes that underlined why he ought to be the first name on the team sheet. In the 630 minutes of ISL football that BFC have played, Javi scored 50% of his team's total tally of goals this season in a 30 minute spell. Make of that what you will.
There are 13 games to go in the season, so there is still time for Grayson to make a push for the playoff spots. If they are to make it, Javi will be chief amongst the reasons why, and not Roy Krishna nor Chhetri - at least from what's been evident this season.
Take a bow, Naorem Mahesh Singh
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- East Bengal FC (@eastbengal_fc) November 28, 2022
It takes a lot to make Stephen Constantine's football watchable. Naorem Mahesh Singh is a lot. Three assists against Jamshedpur that simply underlined the quality in his wand of a left foot - and they just increased in quality with every assist.
The first a delicious cross to enable VP Suhair's early opener, the second an inch-perfect curled ball from the left that negated an entire defence as Cleiton Silva burst into the box to apply the finish. At the time, I had that down as my assist of the season and then Mahesh decided to top that as well.
The final assist was worthy of your best Kaka/Modric/Fabregas YouTube sizzle reel, threaded through a packed midfield and defence to find Cleiton again. Even a 1-degree deviation or an inch more in power, and that pass would have been intercepted/blocked. Literally the perfect pass, and also the assist of the season......so far. We have no idea what's in store for East Bengal in the coming games, but Mahesh is simply a player to look forward too.
World Cup blues?
Anyone else desperately searching for multiple screens to watch ISL and FIFA World Cup games simultaneously and going cross-eyed trying to keep track of everything? No? Just me? Ok then.