The 2019-20 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) has reached its home stretch and several football teams are grappling for a place in the top four. Currently, ATK FC sit at the perch of the table, having accumulated 24 points across 13 fixtures, although FC Goa just sit a rung below courtesy an inferior goal difference.
Bengaluru FC and Odisha FC round off the play-off spots, with the defending champions having garnered 22 points across 13 games whereas Josep Gombau’s men have strung together 21 points in as many games.
Mumbai City FC, after an indifferent start to the season, have recovered enough to remain in contention and they posted a convincing victory over Bengaluru FC on the 17th of January to occupy the 5th position.
Jamshedpur FC, Chennaiyin FC and the Kerala Blasters stand 6th, 7th and 8th respectively, with the Kochi-based outfit the only side among the three to have played 13 encounters.
Hyderabad FC, after a wretched campaign, languish at the foot of the table while NorthEast United FC are currently placed 9th after a string of injuries.
Thus, with most teams having 5 contests remaining, the time seems ripe to indulge in predictions and analyze each side’s chances of making the top four, considering their fixture list, the players at their disposal and of course, their recent form.
The outfits’ probability of making the play-offs would be evaluated on a scale of 1-10, with the team least likely to end up in the aforementioned slots accorded a rating of 1.
#1 ATK – 10/10
Matches Remaining: NorthEast United (H), Jamshedpur FC (A), Odisha FC (H), Chennaiyin FC (H), Bengaluru FC (A)
After a tumultuous campaign last season, ATK have turned things around significantly and they have relatively pulled away from the rest of the chasing pack. More impressively though, the Kolkata-based outfit has come up trumps against the league’s powerhouses, as embodied by their victories against Bengaluru FC and FC Goa at the Salt Lake Stadium.
Moreover, the likes of David Williams and Roy Krishna have been in irresistible form whereas their Indian contingent, comprising Jayesh Rane, Michael Soosairaj, Prabir Das and Sumit Rathi have also stepped up to the plate.
Also, apart from the match at the Kanteerava against the defending champions, the rest of the games don’t embody themselves as potential banana skins, meaning that the ATK juggernaut could be hard to stop before the knock-out stages.
Thus, with 24 points already in their kitty and a seemingly negotiable fixture list ahead, one would be extremely surprised if ATK don’t finish in the top two, let alone the play-off places.
#2 FC Goa – 10/10
Matches Remaining: Kerala Blasters (H), Odisha FC (A), Hyderabad FC (H), Mumbai City FC (H), Jamshedpur FC (A)
Akin to ATK, FC Goa also have most of their components functioning optimally, meaning that qualification might not be a considerable problem. Their foreign exports, Ahmed Jahouh, Carlos Pena, Ferran Corominas, Hugo Boumous and Mourtada Fall look in fine fettle with the aforementioned strike partnership of Boumous and Coro acting as the thorn in several oppositions’ side.
Additionally, Brandon Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues and Seriton Fernandes have given a good account of themselves, thereby casting the Gaurs as one of the best-rounded outfits across the competition.
Furthermore, unlike many teams in the ISL, FC Goa have barely any injury concerns to address while their bench, which usually consists of Len Doungel and Manvir Singh, is also capable of turning the tide of any encounter.
As for their upcoming fixture list, one reckons that their trip to Bhubaneshwar might represent their toughest test, considering the sub-standard pitch on offer at the Kalinga Stadium. Apart from that, the Gaurs boast too much attacking pedigree to not finish in the top four.
#3 Bengaluru FC – 8/10
Remaining Matches: Odisha FC (H), Hyderabad FC (H), Chennaiyin FC (A), Kerala Blasters (A), ATK (H)
Rather surprisingly, the defending champions have blown hot and cold in the current campaign, meaning that they haven’t been able to assert their dominance on the league stages. Yet, they’ve showcased the shrewdness and tenacity of champions to remain in the mix, even when they’ve struggled for goals from open play.
So far, the Blues have managed to make the net ripple on 15 occasions in 13 games, with 8 of those arriving via the set-piece avenue. Fortunately, their Guardian Angel, Sunil Chhetri has offset that particular drawback, popping up with more than half of Bengaluru FC’s goals.
On the defensive front though, the Blues have been pretty miserly, shipping in only 9 goals throughout the season.
In the 5 matches that remain, Bengaluru FC face 3 of the 5 teams in the bottom half, meaning that they should possess enough in their tank to see them off, at least on paper.
Moreover, 3 of those 5 encounters are at the Kanteerava, which the Blues have firmly established as a fortress over the past couple of terms.
Thus, it seems highly unlikely that they would miss out on the play off-bus. Yet, their chances are undermined slightly considering the sheer lack of goals so far. And, if they are to be undone in the latter stages of the season, that particular element could well prove to be their kryptonite.
#4 Odisha FC – 6/10
Remaining Matches: Bengaluru FC (A), FC Goa (H), ATK (A), NorthEast United FC (H), Kerala Blasters (H)
Odisha FC began the season extremely patchily as they lost several matches they ought to have won. More recently though, they’ve arrested that slide and have stitched together a stellar run, having won four on the bounce since losing to FC Goa on the 22nd of December.
In the process, they’ve catapulted themselves to fourth spot, just a point behind Bengaluru FC and a couple of points ahead of Mumbai City FC in fifth.
Over the past few weeks, Josep Gombau’s principles of free-flowing football have borne fruit, enabling them to make the net bulge 8 times in their last 4 matches. More impressively, they’ve combined that attribute with the propensity to see out games, meaning that they’ve not spurned winning situations.
Thus, on current form, Odisha FC seem a safe bet to qualify for the play-offs. However, their fixture list makes that possibility slightly slimmer.
The next three encounters see them lock horns with Bengaluru FC, FC Goa and ATK, who represent the only sides that sit above Odisha in the table. Furthermore, two of those games are away from home, where ATK and the Blues are significantly stronger.
Hence, despite their resurgence over the past month, the Bhubaneshwar-based outfit might just miss out on the play-offs, courtesy the obstacles they have to tackle over the next fortnight.
#5 Mumbai City FC – 7/10
Matches Remaining: Hyderabad FC (A), NorthEast United FC (H), Jamshedpur FC (H), FC Goa (A), Chennaiyin FC (H)
Similar to last term, Mumbai City FC started their campaign shakily, although they earned 4 points from their opening couple of away fixtures. Thereafter, they couldn’t buy a win at the Mumbai Football Arena as the likes of Goa and Odisha thoroughly outplayed them.
However, since that match against the Gaurs in November, the Islanders have posted a couple of massive home wins, with the most recent success coming against the defending champions.
Thus, Jorge Costa’s troops seem to have put their home ghosts to bed, a fact that could come under scrutiny, considering 3 of their final 5 encounters are at the Mumbai Football Arena.
Unlike Odisha though, the Islanders seem to have a much more favourable fixture list. Apart from a trip to Goa, the rest of the matches seem winnable, despite Chennaiyin FC traversing adeptly on their road to redemption.
Moreover, most of the teams they are slated to face, could form the ideal fodder for Mumbai, who seem at their most dangerous when setting up to counter-attack.
Unsurprisingly then, at this juncture, Mumbai City FC seem to boast more chances of making the semi-finals.
#6 Jamshedpur FC – 4/10
Remaining Matches: Chennaiyin FC (A), ATK (H), Mumbai City FC (A), NorthEast United FC (A), Hyderabad FC (A), FC Goa (H)
At the start of the term, Jamshedpur FC looked a side capable of breaching the top four. However, akin to the past couple of seasons, they’ve fallen apart as the season has progressed.
The injuries to Sergio Castel and Piti haven’t aided their endeavours and though the former recently returned against the Kerala Blasters, Jamshedpur still seem a team too reliant on their talismanic Spaniard.
Defensively, they’ve also been prone to lapses, meaning that the burden has then shifted onto an attack that has often lacked spark. Consequently, they’ve drawn or lost games that they should’ve put to bed.
Moreover, of the games that remain, they have only two home fixtures, which incidentally, pit them against the top two in the standings. Elsewhere, Chennaiyin FC could be a tough nut to crack at the Marina Arena whereas Jamshedpur, courtesy their tactics, could also play into Mumbai City FC’s hands.
Thus, despite beginning the campaign brightly, the Red Miners might have to contend themselves with another finish outside the top four.
#7 Chennaiyin FC – 5/10
Matches Remaining: Jamshedpur FC (H), Kerala Blasters (A), Bengaluru FC (H), ATK (A), Mumbai City FC (A), NorthEast United FC (A)
At the time of writing, Chennaiyin FC stand 6 points adrift of Odisha FC in fourth, although the Marina Machans possess a game in hand. If they were to win that particular encounter against NorthEast, they would be within touching distance of Gombau’s charges.
More tellingly though, the two-time ISL champions have generated an almighty head of steam, especially after the arrival of Owen Coyle. The side, in stark contrast to its early-season showings, portray a side bursting with confidence and subsequently, the goals, which were a source of constant concern previously, have also started flowing.
However, much like Jamshedpur, Chennaiyin also have only two home fixtures, with them facing tough away trips to Bengaluru and Kolkata. Additionally, they end the league stages with three consecutive away games, a prospect that wouldn’t particularly be fancied by any side in the competition.
Thus, despite the Marina Machans looking one of the more in-form teams in the tournament, they might just be left ruing their shambolic start to the season.
#8 Kerala Blasters – 3/10
Remaining Matches: FC Goa (A), Chennaiyin FC (H), NorthEast United FC (A), Bengaluru FC (H), Odisha FC (A)
For much of the season, Kerala Blasters have portrayed their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde characteristics. Capable of conjuring an outrageous display, they’ve also been guilty of turning in abject performances. And, sadly for Eelco Schattorie, the latter has weighed much heavier.
Unsurprisingly, the Blasters have usually complemented a step forward with a couple in the other direction, a fact exemplified by their most recent loss against Jamshedpur FC.
Additionally, the Kochi-based side’s Indian contingent haven’t really pulled their weight, with players of the ilk of Raju Gaikwad, Sahal Abdul Samad and to an extent, Jessel Carneiro not covering themselves in any glory.
Consequently, the burden has been shouldered by Bartholomew Ogbeche and Messi Bouli. And, while they’ve handled that responsibility well so far, they most certainly can’t be expected to do the heavy lifting for the remainder of the round-robin stage.
Thus, it seems highly unlikely that the Manjappada would see their outfit in the semi-finals.
#9 NorthEast United FC – 2/10
Remaining Matches: ATK (A), Mumbai City FC (A), Kerala Blasters (H), Jamshedpur FC (H), Odisha FC (H), Hyderabad FC (H), Chennaiyin FC (H)
Over the past few seasons, NorthEast United have always looked an outfit that seems just a couple of performances away from churning out something substantial. Unfortunately though, those displays have never come about, meaning that the Highlanders have regularly watched the play-offs from the comforts of their homes. And, that trend seems unlikely to be rectified in 2020 as they seem a far cry from a team hoping to break into the top four.
Owing to the political tension in Guwahati a month ago, NorthEast have had to play 5 consecutive away matches, a sequence that ends with their encounter at the Mumbai Football Arena on the 31st of January.
However, during that run, they’ve massively felt the absence of Asamoah Gyan, a striker that was supposed to spearhead their charge. With him missing, the likes of Federico Gallego and Martin Chaves haven’t stepped up, meaning that their inexperienced Indian complement of players has been called into question.
Thus, with the goals drying up and their defence always seeming a catastrophe waiting to unravel, it would border on absurdity if anyone tipped them for a semi-final berth. And, though one can never say never in football, all signs point to NorthEast’s play-off pursuit proving to be futile.
#10 Hyderabad FC – 1/10
Remaining Matches: Mumbai City FC (H), Bengaluru FC (A), FC Goa (A), Jamshedpur FC (H), NorthEast United FC (A)
At this stage, Hyderabad FC have mustered only 5 points from 13 fixtures and they would probably be glad that the ISL doesn’t follow a relegation-promotion structure. To put things plainly, they have been extremely dire throughout the season and Albert Roca has a monumental task trying to resurrect a club that isn’t just faltering but is in danger of slipping into ISL oblivion.
As for their play-off chances, they are mathematically and practically out of contention. In fact, even if they win their remaining matches, which is a stretch in itself, they would only propel themselves to 20 points, a point less than what the current 4th placed side has managed.
Thus, the rest of the term represents a chance for Roca to analyze the chinks existing in the side’s armour and chalk out a prospective course of action in the off-season. Unsurprisingly, the only role Hyderabad can play, even as others scramble frantically for the top four spots, is that of party-poopers.