The sixth edition of the Indian Super League is here and with it, probably the dawn of a new age in Indian football. Kerala Blasters take on ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, but that is, surprisingly just the by-story of a much bigger tale. The devil, as always, is in the details and in this case, the details are in the form of the roadmap for Indian football. Recommended by the Asian Football Confederation, season 2019/20 of the ISL will be recognised as the premier league competition in Indian football.
With defending champions Bengaluru FC weakened by the loss of the talismanic Miku Fedor, the likes of Chennaiyin FC, Mumbai City FC, ATK and Kerala Blasters have significantly strengthened their squads. The others, including Hero Super Cup 2018/19 winners FC Goa, Northeast United FC, Jamshedpur FC and the two new franchises, Odisha FC and FC Hyderabad will also look to make an impression this season. The onus to win is higher than ever, with the ISL league stage winners guaranteed a spot in the play-offs of the AFC Champions League, the continent’s most prestigious club football competition. That means the fight will not just be for the trophy but for a shot at history, and there is no doubt that all the franchises will be desperate to make their mark in the league rounds.
Who looks the strongest on paper?
There is no doubt that some of the ISL teams look much stronger than others on paper. Mumbai City FC heads that list, followed by Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC. Of course, the usual suspects of Bengaluru FC, ATK, Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa still have the most chances of making it to the play-offs but there may be quite a few major upsets as the season progresses. Both the two-time champions Chennaiyin FC and ATK have had extremely disappointing seasons last time around, and they will be desperate to amend those mistakes.
FC Hyderabad and Northeast United FC are in the running as well, even if little might be expected from them. The former will be making their bow in the ISL for the first time this year, and having have had to shift base from Pune at the end of the 2018/19 campaign. The latter made it to the play-offs last year and were one of the most exciting teams to watch, but the loss of several key players like Bartholomew Ogbeche and Rowllin Borges, along with the departure of their head coach Eelco Schattorie has certainly weakened them.
What will be the games to watch out for in the first Match-week?
ISL 2019/20 kicks off with the El Clasico of Indian football at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi when Antonio Habas and Eelco Schattorie face off against each other. The game will be preceded by a glitzy opening ceremony, which will have the likes of Disha Patani and Tiger Shroff performing in it. A full-house is expected, and the Manjapadda, the Blasters’ official fan club will be present in full voice to support their side. The arrival of Ogbeche, Rafi and the emergence of Sahal Abdul Samad means the home side should be attacking from the go. ATK, however, are no pushovers themselves and with Roy Krishna and Joby Justin as a part of their forward line, will probably sit back and look to counter-attack from the go.
Other key games from match-week 1 will be Bengaluru FC taking on Northeast United on the 21st and FC Goa going head-to-head against Chennaiyin FC on the 23rd of October. The Blues are still a well-balanced side, but the colossal load of goal-scoring will once again rest on Chhetri’s shoulders. With age catching up on the Indian skipper, it will be interesting to see how manager Carlos Cuadrat deals with it if Chhetri draws a blank.
FC Goa, on the other hand, will be raring to go this year. With ISL’s top scorer of all-time (34) in their ranks in the form of Ferran Corominas, the Gaurs will leave no stone unturned to lift their maiden title. Having made it to two finals including the last one, FC Goa will be relying on the likes of Jackichand Singh and Ahmed Jahouh to end their mental block in the finals once and for all.
Who are the players I need to keep an eye on?
Amongst the modern Indian players, Bengaluru FC’s latest recruit Ashique Kuruniyan will be one to watch out for. With 3 goals and 4 assists for FC Pune City last year, he is expected to provide the service for Chhetri upfront. FC Goa’s Brandon Fernandes is also an enticing prospect, having had 8 ISL assists and 3 goals so far in his career. Kerala Blasters’ Sahal Abdul Samad and ATK’s Jobby Justin are also huge names whose progress will be measured tediously, as they arguably will be forming the spine of the next generation of the Indian national football team.
Amongst the foreigners, the most attention will definitely be on Northeast United’s Asamoah Gyan. Arguably the biggest name in the ISL this year, the World-Cupper will be expected to fill the big boots of Ogbeche. ATK’s Roy Krishna and Carl McHugh will be getting a lot of attention as well, as well as Bengaluru FC’s Michael Onwu. Keep your eyes on for Corominas and Mumbai City’s Sougou as well, along with Ogbeche as these three will more likely than not be fighting for the Golden Boot at the end of the season.
Where do I catch all the action?
ISL kicks off from 7:30 pm today. You can catch it on the Star Sports network or on Hotstar.