The wait is finally over-the I League is ready to kick off on the 21st September as 13 teams lock horns to achieve supremacy in Indian football. Having survived a turbulent summer, the league is back with new teams as fans all over the country wonder how this season will pan out. Will Churchill Brothers retain the title or will Dempo run away with the crown? How long will Ranty lead the scoring charts before someone else beats him to it? Will Mohammedan and Rangdajied United manage to hold on to their promotion or will they get the axe this time around? The Hard Tackle team of writers comes together and offers their predictions to shed some light on what to expect from this year’s I League.
Question 1-Which club do you think is going to go home with the I-League trophy this season?
Bhargab: That’s a difficult one to predict; but Churchill, Dempo and East Bengal have the strongest squads on paper, and these three should fight it out for the title. If you twist my wrist and ask me for a name, I might go with Dempo though.
Rahul: Dempo without a doubt. With Arthur Papas at the helm, there will be no stopping the Goan giants who had to bite the dust last time around.
Somnath: It’s difficult to say actually. There have been far too many changes over the summer and a number of clubs have new coaches or a bunch of new players.
Pratik: I would put my money on Dempo. They missed out last season and even worse was that they finished outside the top 3. However with Arthur Papas as coach and a decent team Dempo should go the distance.
Joseph: Dempo SC. Arthur Papas tactical acumen and flexibility might prove out to be too hot to handle for others. He has adapted to the demands of Indian Football and has a good team at his disposal.
Question 2- Who do you think will lose the relegation battle this season?
Bhargab: Mumbai FC and Rangdajied will start as the favorites to go down, but both sides can spring a few surprises as the league progresses.
Rahul: Rangdajied United look likely to get the axe. They have a relatively inexperienced squad which can hurt them in the league format.
Somnath: Mumbai FC. They have been very quiet in the transfer window and I don’t think they are sufficiently strong to escape relegation this season as well.
Pratik: This one is very tough to predict as most of the lineups are fairly decent on paper. I would say Rangdajied United and Shillong Lajong are most likely to get relegated.
Joseph: The lack of activity from Rangdajied United in transfer market makes them one of the early favourites while Mumbai FC might not survive this time with their negative football.
Question 3-Who do you think are going to be the dark horses this season?
Bhargab: Pune FC. The red lizards definitely have a squad to challenge for the title, but the club made a lot of changes in the summer, and the players will take time to gel with each other, under a new coach.
Rahul: Pune FC as they have been for the past couple of years. It will be interesting to see if they can take the extra step and clinch the title.
Somnath: Sporting Clube de Goa.
Pratik: Prayag United, with the likes of Ranty Martins, Bello Razzaq’s they have all the makings to give the favorites a scare or two.
Joseph: Shillong Lajong FC, they do have the surprise element in them to upset the odds. Some of their summer recruitments have been top notch.
Question 4- Rangdajied United F.C. and Mohammedan S.C.-Your take on the newly promoted teams.
Bhargab: Both clubs have strong support bases, and they will certainly add spice to the I-League.
Rahul: Mohammedan have built a strong squad consisting of several I-League regulars and will be no pushovers. Rangdajied on the other hand are a bit of an unknown package and look inexperienced.
Somnath: Rangdajied may struggle in their first season in top flight like Lajong and United Sikkim did. Mohammedan has a strong squad so may not get relegated but I don’t see them finishing higher up the table either.
Pratik: Rangdajied United finished ahead of Mohammedan to get promotion, however since then they haven’t managed to do anything significant in the transfer market which makes me believe they would be the weakest team in the lineup and would most probably be relegated.
Joseph: Rangdajied United FC hasn’t done enough in the market so far on the other hand Mohammedan SC has utilized their tradition and history by roping in some quality players. Penn Orji can prove out to be the signing of the season for them and can lead them to a decent mid table finish.
Question 5-Bengaluru F.C.-Will it have an impact on the I-League this season?
Bhargab: They have a good squad, especially a very strong forward line with Menyongar, Chhetri and Robin Singh; should finish in the top half.
Rahul: Bengaluru FC have already created a niche for themselves with their off-field activities and their efforts to connect with fans. They have a reasonable squad and should do well.
Somnath: At least they will bring in some crowd in Bangalore, hopefully. In terms of performance, they have little experience as a club and may struggle in the I league.
Pratik: Definitely, Bengaluru F.C has all the makings of a good football club and has started on a very bright note. Though they wouldn’t exactly challenge for the crown don’t expect them to be pushovers.
Joseph: Bengaluru FC’s midfield is an area of concern while strike force is their best bet. Relegation free status might allow them to play free flowing football.
Question 6-What does Pailan Arrows’ absence mean for the I-League?
Bhargab: Arrows have provided young players a platform to play, and their absence will be a big blow to youngsters like Holicharan, who will now be looking for new employers.
Rahul: Arrows was the flavor of the I-League last season and the young lads will surely be missed this season. On the other hand, one wishes that a solution is found out soon.
Somnath: Young players getting less playing time. Most clubs in India, especially the once in Kolkata are too reluctant to given regular time to young players. AIFF needs to make a rule where two U21 players need to be kept mandatorily in starting XI.
Pratik: It is a huge blow, Pailan Arrows was an opportunity for the talented youngsters to get valuable experience and playtime which would have helped hone their skills.
Joseph: It’s huge loss. Now the youngsters might find it harder to get enough playing time elsewhere. Especially with their contractual conditions allowing them to play for IMG-R league, I-League clubs might not be willing to add them to their ranks.
Question 7-Who will be the highest scorer in this edition of the I-League?
Bhargab: I will put my money on James Moga.
Rahul: Odafa. With Prayag struggling, it will be tougher for Ranti Martins this season.
Somnath: Odafa Okalie.
Pratik: Odafa Okolie should be the one. He will face competition from the likes of James Moga and Ranty Martins.
Joseph: It’s very difficult to rule out Ranti Martins, but the current situations in Prayag United forces me to do so and pick East Bengal’s physical presence upfront James Moga.
Question 8-Which Indian will score the maximum number of goals this season?
Bhargab: I think Sunil Chhetri will finally find his form and score a handful of goals this season. Jeje too should do well under Papas.
Rahul: Sunil Chhetri . The Indian skipper has a point to prove and will be gunning for goals.
Somnath: Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Pratik: Sunil Chhetri.
Joseph: Jeje Lalpejula might finally come off age, but it would be difficult to look past Sunil Chettri in this department if he finds his goal scoring form.
Question 9-Which team has the strongest foreign contingent?
Bhargab: East Bengal in my opinion. All their foreigners have previously played and excelled in the country.
Rahul: East Bengal seem strongest having four players well versed with the Indian conditions.
Somnath: Once again, it is difficult to say as most clubs have brought a number of players untested in Indian conditions.
Pratik: East Bengal. However there are reports of differences between the foreign contingent and Falopa, add to that injury woes. Dempo would come a close second.
Joseph: Mohun Bagan has done well to add Katsumi Yusa to their ranks while East Bengal also has got a strong contingent. But Dempo edges them by the slightest of margins, they really do have some squad this season.
Question 10-Judging by the defence line up, which team will have the maximum amount of clean sheets?
Bhargab: I like the Dempo defence; think it will do well this season.
Rahul: Churchill Brothers. In the presence of Euripedes Amoreirinha, Denzil Franco and Dharmaraj Ravanan , Churchill undoubtedly boast of one of the best defence in the league.
Somnath: Churchill Brothers, I have always admired Sukhwinder’s ability to organize defence.
Pratik: East Bengal.
Joseph: I am putting my money on Dempo due to their tactical flexibility to counter the opposition threats in many ways.
Question 11-Young players to watch out for.
Bhargab: Milan Singh and Gurjinder Kumar.
Rahul: Myron Fernandes, Nikhil Kadam, F Lalrempuia, Bruno Colaco.
Somnath: Ram Mullick (Mohun Bagan), Lalrindika Ralte (East Bengal), Nikhil Kadam (Pune FC), Romeo Fernadez (Dempo).
Pratik: Milan Singh, Jeje and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Joseph: I am looking forward to see Lalrindike Ralte establishing himself as a prominent force in Indian Football.
Question 12-How feisty is the Kolkata derby going to be this year? Will Mohun Bagan revenge themselves?
Bhargab: Both the teams have done some decent business over the summer; but feel East Bengal have the upper hand going into the season. That being said, in an one-off game, especially a derby, you can’t really predict what’s going to happen.
Rahul: The derby is always the biggest match in the I-League calendar and one hopes that both the kolkata giants can make it a match to remember.
Somnath: This year’s derby will be an even contest as both teams are more or less on the same level in terms of strength.
Pratik: It will not be that feisty because the two teams have played each other after the infamous incident and will face off in the CFL before the I League so I am expecting it to be a normal affair which dishes good news (football) in the field.
Joseph: It’s going to be better than ever and I am looking forward to catch the actions live this time. I personally feel that East Bengal holds the edge on paper.
It now remains to be seen how the teams perform in the I-League this year. Will our predictions hold true? Only time will tell.