With just six points separating the top seven clubs at the end of the first half of the league, there is immense anticipation for the remainder of the season as it is mathematically possible for all these sides to clinch the coveted trophy.
In terms of a first choice squad strength – Dempo, Mahindra, Churchill Brothers, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are almost neck to neck with each other. Since sustainability will be the key factor for these teams in this marathon run, squad depth automatically comes into the picture. Here the advantage goes to Mahindra United and Mohun Bagan, for the abundance of quality in the reserve bench.
Currently, Dempo are sitting pretty at the top of the table; the break has helped them immensely, as it gives them time to sort out injuries to key players. Chirag United, despite standing second as of now, do not have the quality or mentality to maintain that position and it is likely that they will drop off.
Churchill Brothers rely heavily on their foreign recruits Odafa and Kalu, and the unavailability of either player adversely affects them. East Bengal boasts of a very good first eleven, but the bench strength is not very comforting; goalkeeping is also an area of concern for the Kolkata giants. Debutants Pune FC are undoubtedly the dark horses in this race, but their bench strength will eventually let them down.
TheHardTackle.com teams to watch out for:
If we analyze the situation thoroughly, the state of affairs certainly favors third placed Mahindra United. They are just four points adrift of the league leaders, and have the quality in their arsenal to last till the very end. Muritala Ali and Mohhammed Rafi make a dangerous striking combo, and they are certainly in the form of their life. Reserve striker Sushil Kumar Singh also has proved his mettle in various domestic and international tournaments. Mahindra’s midfield, consisting of Steven Dias, NP Pradeep, K Ajayan and Svetozer Mijin, is one of the best in the country. Their defense, though lacking in experience, has no dearth of talents. Moreover, custodian Subhasish Roy Chowdhury’s assured and composed support helps the defense to gel better.
Mohun Bagan is currently placed at the seventh position, with 6 point separating them from the leaders, Dempo. Arguably they have the most complete squad this season in the I-League, possessing an experienced quality first 11 and an equally strong and talented reserve bench. The Barreto-Chidi combination upfront can work wonders for them. New coach Satyajit Chatterjee will also heavily bank on the skilled midfield duo of Marcos and Ryuiji. Satyajit is spoilt for choices at the back four, with big names like Indian internationals Deepak Mondal, N.S. Manju, Rakesh Mashi, Surkumar Singh, Sagaram Mandi and N Mohanraj at his disposal. Veteran Captain Sangram Mukherjee is the first choice goalkeeper, and the reserve custodian Shilton Pal has already proved that he is an able deputy to the skipper.
TheHardTackle.com players to keep a tab on:
Beto, Sunil Chetri (Dempo)
Subrata Pal, Douhou, Izumi Arata (Pune FC)
Edmilson, Joshimar (Chirag) Md. Rafi, Steven Dias (Mahindra)
Baichung, Yakubu, Sanju, Okpara, Hammond (East Bengal)
Chidi, Barreto, Ryuiji, Surkumar (Mohun Bagan)
Odafa, Kalu, Gourmangi (Churchill)
Pen Orji (JCT), Mondjou Keita (Salgaocar), S Tuboi (Lajong) and ND Opara (Air India)