It's coming close to the business end of the ISL, and things are heating up. Last-minute draws, goal-fests, cagey 1-1s, this week of football in the Goan bio-bubble had it all.
Meanwhile, quite a few teams still remain in the run for a playoffs place, and you can read all about that right here.
Goa never give up... but will that be enough?
Mumbai City were 2-0 up in under half an hour of their match against FC Goa. They looked, for all the world, like they were going to walk it. Then, Glan Martins absolutely hammered home a debut goal for his new club, and Igor Angulo Igor-Angulo-ed his way to an equaliser. Rowllin Borges then appeared to have sealed the deal for Mumbai in the last minute of regulation time, only for Ishan Pandita to strike in the sixth (!) minute of injury time.
Five days later, they went from 1-0 down to 1-1 to 2-1 down, before Pandita equalised in the second minute of injury time.
It's quite remarkable, this resilience that Goa show to keep coming back from the dead, to keep fighting till the very end. But it also must be concerning that they need to do this again and again. The euphoria of a last-minute equaliser often masks the problems that preceded it -- and there are problems across the park. The defence looks unsettled, the midfield often appears to switch off in key phases, and their forwards can look isolated at times. '
Six draws in their last six matches have ended their defense of the league shield, and even more worryingly, it's the kind of stuttering form that can cost a team a playoffs spot.
Advantage NorthEast, for now
Making the most of Goa's addiction to draws is Khalid Jamil's NorthEast United. They are now third, two points clear of Goa and Hyderabad and are in prime position to seal a playoffs place. And they deserve to be there -- they are yet to lose under Jamil, in six matches, and are playing some lovely football. Federico Gallego is in inspirational playmaking form, Deshorn Brown is toe-poking-in goals like only a striker in peak form does. Luis Machado seems to be having fun. Apuia and Khassa Camara are running midfield week-in, week-out. Jamil seems to have hit upon a winning formula here, a sustainable one.
Now, where were we on removing that 'interim' tag, Mr. Abraham?
Weekly Chennaiyin stats roll call
First match, vs. Bengaluru
Shots - 14
Shots on target - 6
Goals - 0 (ended 0-0)
Second match, vs. Goa
Shots - 14
Shots on target - 4
Goals - 2 (better, yes, but the game ended 2-2)
Kerala Blasters shoot themselves in the foot. Again.
No team that allows 29 goals in 17 games can make the playoffs of the ISL. Even more than the sheer number of goals shipped in, it will be the nature of them that will irk even the most loyal fan. This week, Diego Mauricio walked in two like there was no one there --
A third brace of the season for @Di_Mauricio_ ��
- Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) February 11, 2021
Their attack remains enterprising and exciting -- only the current top four have scored more goals -- but with a defence that is as comically leaky as this, there's no saying when the bullets will be redirected downwards, onto their own foot.
ATK Mohun Bagan are hitting their stride
ATK Mohun Bagan barely broke sweat as they saw off a dispirited Bengaluru FC 2-0 on Tuesday. Antonio Habas pulled an old trick out of the hat -- a 1-0 Roy Krishna special -- against a much more spirited Jamshedpur on Sunday. This is a battle-hardened squad, managed by a man who knows what it takes to win in this country. It's showing.
The defending champions lead the league by two points (although Mumbai have a game in hand, and can reclaim the lead later tonight with a win), and are keeping the pressure on the top constant. That last league stage match against Mumbai City is getting tastier by the day.
Player of the week - Ishan Pandita
Ishan Pandita has played just 43 minutes of ISL football this season. He has 4 goals to his name. It's not just the minutes-per-goal ratio, it's how vital these goals have been. Those 4 goals have directly resulted in Goa gaining four points (a winner, three equalisers). None of them are flukes. Pandita's movement inside the box is superb, the ability to lose a marker and arrive in space at just the right time, impressive. And then there's the finishing. With head, or either foot, he's been deadly. Juan Ferrando and the Goa management took a punt on Pandita in the summer and as much as it has paid off handsomely till now, it may now be time to go all in and give him a place in the starting XI.
On a side note, imagine where Chennaiyin FC would be if they had him at the end of some of their moves?