The Indian Super League (ISL) has been completely unpredictable this season, with lots of twists and turns that have made it interesting. Defending champions Atletico de Kolkata lead the table with just one more game to go, but the business end of the tournament is yet to begin.
With one more week of league stage action to go (six matches), the race for the semi final qualification place is heating up, and the teams would be frantically trying to recover their form to make it to the last four. What makes this last week even more interesting is the fact that Atletico de Kolkata and FC Goa, the two teams that have looked the strongest in the league so far (also hailing from the traditional fooball-loving areas of the country) have already booked their respective spots in the top-four.
Delhi Dynamos FC have also effectively booked their spot in the top four. They can mathematically be overtaken by North East United FC (NEUFC), Chennaiyin FC, or by FC Pune City, only one of these teams can actually get more or equal points than the team from the capital. The last spot will be contested between four teams a NEUFC, Chennaiyin FC, FC Pune City, and Mumbai City FC. So leta s take a look at the four contenders and their chances to get their one last shot at redemption, this season.
Mumbai City FC
Nicolas Anelkaa s team arguably has the best attack in the ISL, with the speed of Subash Singh, pace of Sony Norde, strength of Frederic Piquionne, the precision of Sunil Chhetri, and the vision of Nicolas Anelka.
However, they have not been performing quite upto their potential, and have slipped to the seventh (second last) position after a horrendous run of six winless matches. Dressing room problems have hit the Islanders pretty bad, and this seems to have caused a monumental slip in their table position this season.
However, one of the biggest issues with the Mumbai city FC has been their team selection, by player-cum-coach Anelka. While the combination of Piquionne up-front, Norde and Subash on the wings, and Chhetri in the No. 10 role worked quite well in the mid-season, the Frenchman suddenly decided to disrupt the momentum by pushing Chhetri to the wings, and Selim Benachour up to the No. 10 role, while playing himself as the central striker.
Player to watch out for: Sunil Chhetri (forward)
He is one man who could possibly get Mumbai City FC over the line. He was extrememly destructive playing behind Piquionne, and if restored to that role again, he might just do the magic that Indian football fans have seen him do, so many times.
Chennaiyin FC (Away), Atletico de Kolkata (Away)
It looks difficult for Mumbai to get themselves out of this tight spot, and their current form is not anything extroadinary that might get them over the line either. With both their remaining matches being away fixtures, their problems seem to be compounded by the fact that both Chennaiyin FC and ATK have found form at the perfect time of the season. While they may still expect something out of the ATK match because the Kolkata-side have already qualified, and could take this game a bit lightly, it seems extremely unlikely that they would get anything out of the Chennaiyin FC game.
FC Pune City
For FC Pune City, the season seems to have been split down the middle this year. They have played 12 games so far, and have been absolutely brilliant in the first six of these matches, winning four of them. However, they have been more similar to their Marathi neighbours Mumbai City FC in the last six matches, only picking up three out of a possible 18.
This massive drop in form has also seen them slide down from first on the ISL table to the sixth position, something that manager David Platt will not be too proud of. However, with two more games to go they have the chance to make things right.
Platt seems to have built a well-balanced side for Pune, with the likes of Roger Johnson, Dharamraj Ravanan, and Nickey Shorey manning the defence, protected by Ivory Coast icon Didier Zokora from defensive midfield.
Meanwhile, Euegenson Lyngdoh can be a great influence from the middle of the park and with set pieces, feeding fast wingmen Jackichand Singh and Lenny Rodrigues. With Tuncay Sanli and Adrian Mutu or Kau Uche up front, Pune FC forms a very good balance, but seem to have been lacking the spark in the last few matches. Also the suspension of Lyngdoy in their next match against NEUFC could hit them hard.
Player to watch out for: Adrian Mutu (forward)
Although FC Pune City have not been on the winning side, former Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu seems to have hit form at the business end of the tournaent, after coming back from an injury. He has scored thrice in Punea s last three matches, and could play a crucial part in their qualification, if they do make it.
North East United FC (Away), Chennaiyin FC (Home)
Although the semi final stage is yet to start, FC Pune City can cnsider themselves to be already in the knockout phase of the tournament. Both the teams they face in their last two matches are also vying for the last semi final spot, and they need to win both these mathces to have a chance to qualify. Neither of these matches would be be anything near to being a cake-walk for Pune, as both NEUFC and Chennaiyin are regaining their form at the end of the season, and look the stronger sides right now.
North East United FC
The Highlanders have been a revelation this season, as new manager Cesar Farias has turned them around from being the bottom-team, to being a strong contender for the semi final spots. Farias has set up his side to play some really good football, and they do not really depend on any particular player to get them going. However, a good freeflowing style of football has ensured that NEUFC has kept their fans entertained.
The downside to that is the fact that NEUFC have conceded 21 goals in 13 games. Only bottom club Kerala Blasters FC have conceded more so far. The likes of Diomansy Kamara, Francis Dadzie and Nico Velez have lit up the attacking front of the team, while Bruni Arias, Silas, Siam Hanghal and Sanju Pradhan have been good from midfield.They also have the added advantage of throwing marquee player Simao Sabrosa into the mix, and stirringn things up.
Player to watch out for: Nico Velez (Forward)
Velez is an extremely useful player for Farias, and can be used in a number of positions. He can play on the wings, as well as up front. However, he has been most effective when Farias has brought him off the bench, to run at the tired defenders.
FC Pune City (Home)
A win against FC Pune City would certainly mean that David Platta s men would be knocked out, but NEUFC would also be hoping that Chennaiyin FC do not pick up full six points from their remaining two matches. Otherwise, ita s Chennaiyin FC, who would make it to the semi finals for the second time in as many years.
On their day, Chennaiyin FC can be one of the most destructive team in the ISL, with Colombian striker running riot up front for the Machans. Manager Marco Materazzi has cleverly switchd to the 4-3-3 formation, which has given Chennaiyin FC a lot of witdth, while also allowing them to maintain their numbers in midfield.With Stiven Mendoza spearheading the attack in the last two matces, the Colombian has managed to score four times in the two games. This has not only put firmly at the top of the goalscorera s chart, but also put Chennaiyin FC right back into contention for a top-four spot.
Another influential player Elano has however had his injury worries this season, and that has reflected in Materazzi often benching him. However, the team has looked quite well without the Brazilian, and this is a good sign, as once back to fitness, he Channaiyin can truly wreack havock.For the moment though, Bruno Pelisari and Raphael Augusto have done well from the midfield, alongwith Harmanjot Khabra, and this seems to have given Chennaiyin Fc some momentum.
Player to watch out for: Bernard Mendy (Defender)
While Mendoza would be lookignto get the goals, it is Bernard Mendy, who would try to keep a solid defence from leaking goals at the back. The Frenchman has been an integral part of the defence since last season, and can even soar up the pitch when needed, and unleash vicious long rangers, or thumping headers, to get on the scoresheet himself.
Mumbai City FC (Home), FC Pune City (Away)
One the face of it, this looks like a bit of a tough set of fixtures for Chennaiyin, but both Mumbain and Pune have been out of form, and Materazzia s men would be looking to get wins from both these matches, to qualify for the last four.
In fact, Chennaiyin FC looks best placed to quilify for the semis, and might even pip Delhi to take the third spot if the Dynamos lose their match against Kerala Blasters FC.
Image Courtesy: ISL Media Team