Defending I-League champions Aizawl FC have begun the new season with four points from two games, following a 1-0 win against Churchill Brothers and a 2-2 draw against East Bengal.
Their performance against Churchill, while dominant, would worry coach Paulo Meneses in terms of the lack of finishing. Aizawl had 33 shots but could only get three of them on target. They also left gaping holes at the back for Churchill to exploit.
The key to Aizawl controlling games better last season was Liberian Alfred Jaryan, and this season promises better things for the champions with former captain David Lalrinmuana returning to the squad after one I-League away from Aizawl. Lalrinmuana injured himself in the early stages of Wednesday's match, while William Lalnunfela was also was not part of the squad against Churchill.
Among players from last season, the biggest hole left behind is in the middle of the pitch, where Mahmoud Al-Amnah was often the difference between Aizawl and their opponents with his creativity. With no Kamo Bayi, Jayesh Rane, Ashutosh Mehta, Lalruatthara or Laldanmawia Ralte either this season, Aizawl would perhaps be better served by pushing Jaryan into more of an attacking role.
Kobayashi and his strike-partner Leonce Dodoz are both physical presences, and still offer much to the team, especially when playing away. Meneses has also shown a liking for Lalmuankima, pushing him into the final third in a fairly attacking 4-1-2-3 formation to start with. However, with Jaryan playing a holding role, he had little to do with his team dominating almost 80 percent of the possession against Churchill.
Jaryan has succeeded as a centre-forward in Indian football before, when coached by Khalid Jamil at Mumbai FC, a team that made the most of pace off the ball and speedy overlaps from the flanks, not unlike what Aizawl are now known for. Besides, Aizawl have a solid central midfielder in Lalbiakthanga, who came on for Lalrinmuana and did a competent job on Wednesday.
Fourteen matches into the new I-League season, it is already looking like anybody's title for the taking, with Minerva Punjab surprise occupants of the top spot. Aizawl are just starting out, though, and would be smarting from having lost the Mizoram Premier League in a final to Chhinga Veng over the last week.
With a few tweaks to their strategy and shuffling of personnel, Aizawl will likely still be a force to reckon with this season.