The latest edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) kicked off with expectations of it being bigger and better than ever before and that too in the times of the coronavirus pandemic. Familiar star performers, an old friend plotting the other’s downfall, a feisty rivalry, the youngest manager and plenty of grit and a bit of rustiness – the first five games had it all.
Here’s a look at the talking points from the first gameweek in Goa.
Old Habits Die Hard for Antonio Habas
The ISL’s most successful coach has been true to his style right from the first season. And despite the change in colours and the crest, ATK MB, as expected picked off from last season. The Spaniard smart transfer activity had added solidity to the defence which meant a clean sheet on the opening was duly registered with Roy Krishna adding the finishing touches to a very normal day at work.
Kibu Vicuna, who masterminded Mohun Bagan’s brilliant final season in the I-league, stuck to his style too as Kerala Blasters looked a much-changed side but have plenty to do in the weeks ahead.
Gritty FC Goa Involved in Goal Fest
Juan Ferrando had quite the task on hand with a much-changed FC Goa and an opening fixture against the strong Bengaluru FC. But apart from personnel and few changes in position, Goa looked as settled an outfit as before and as prone to lapses in concentration too.
However, unlike the previous seasons where they might surrendered under continued pressure, Goa came roaring back and in style – Brandon Fernandes and Alberto Noguera controlled play and some slick passing not only evened things up but also made for an exciting finish.
Ferrando tried to tighten up the engine room and his side responded well. After Sergio Lobera had been replaced by Ferrando, the transition phase and the appointment were topics of plenty of discussion and from the evidence of the first game it isn’t likely to be a rough phase.
NorthEast United and Hyderabad’s Statement of Intent
NorthEast United and Hyderabad were the two teams at the bottom of the league last season with the latter being unable to keep a clean sheet throughout – quite simply the pushovers of last season. How would Gerard Nus Casanova (NE Utd), the youngest manager in the competition, and Manuel Marquez Roca (HFC), deal with it?
Nus had the big spending Mumbai City FC and Sergio Lobera’s swagger to deal with while Roca had less of a daunting task in terms of opposition, Odisha, who were missing key players.
NorthEast, with limited resources and plenty of disdain for reputations, executed Casanova’s plan perfectly, thwarted the opposition and walked away with the spoils.
For Hyderabad, Aridane Santana, a part of Odisha FC last season, was the hero as his former employers looked listless. Roca set up his team well and they were doing a fine job, but when he brought young Liston Colaco into the mix; there were fireworks which unfortunately though did not result in a more emphatic end. While it wasn’t the toughest of battles for Roca, the cleansheet will give his side the confidence to build on.
Anirudh Thapa Makes a Splash
One of India’s brightest midfielders alongside Brandon Fernandes, Chennaiyin’s Anirudh Thapa has been consistently doing well in the last few years. Once again, he pulled the strings from midfield after starting his evening on a delightful note – a difficult right footed finish from a yard inside the box on 47 seconds to become the first Indian to find the back of the net this season. It is the fastest goal in the ISL since Marcelo Leite’s goal for Hyderabad against Odisha on January 15 this year, which came after 37 seconds.
As the second gameweek rolls over and with the FC Goa taking on Sergio Lobera’s Mumbai City FC before the much anticipated Kolkata Derby, a recurring theme of course has been the lack of sharpness and general rustiness due to the long absence from the field this year. For a majority this was their first piece of competition since March and things can only improve in terms of fitness and better football.