After 110 matches, Mumbai City have been crowned 2020-21 Indian Super League, er, League Winners after a dramatic final week of the league stage. ISL Musings takes one last look back at the week gone by in Indian football's top division.
Mumbai City, champions
Not in the sense that they have won the ISL -- that comes later, after the playoffs -- but in that Mumbai City will now represent India in the 2021 AFC Champions League. For all intents and purposes, the Asian Football Confederation now recognises Mumbai City FC as the champions of India's top division.
They've earned the tag.
Coming into the week, they needed two wins in two games to achieve glory -- and they delivered in style. First was the 6-1 demolition of Odisha, the second a comfortable 2-0 win over their direct rivals ATK Mohun Bagan.
Except for the first 10 minutes against Odisha (when they went a goal down, and looked like they could concede more), those two matches showed the league just why Sergio Lobera and his team had been anointed favourites right at the start. When they are on their A-game, no side in the country can match their flair, tactical-nous, or big-game temperament.
A missed opportunity for ATK Mohun Bagan
Ruthless, efficient, professional, winners. For the vast majority of the season, these had been the words (or similar ones) that had been used to describe ATK Mohun Bagan. It's these attributes of theirs that had seen Antonio Habas lead ATK to the ISL Cup last season, and it was going to be how he would lead the newly formed ATKMB to the League Shield this time around.
His team entered the final week of the campaign firmly in control of their destiny -- three points from two games, and the top spot was theirs. It's not just that they didn't get those points, but the manner in which they lost them that was so uncharacteristic of a Habas side.
On Monday, underdogs Hyderabad, reduced to 10 men inside the opening five minutes, played Bagan off the park in a 2-2 draw. On Sunday, pretty Mumbai City outfought and out-scrapped them en-route a 2-0 win. In neither match did Bagan look anywhere close to their best, and at no time across those 180 minutes did they look like they were going to get a win.
Considering their form and the circumstances entering this last week, Habas and co. will consider this a massive missed opportunity.
NorthEast United continue to dream courtesy Khalid Jamil
Two games, two wins, a playoff spot signed, sealed and delivered. This past week was the cherry atop a particularly tasty looking cake that Khalid Jamil has been baking ever since he took over from Gerard Nus. His side saw off East Bengal and Kerala Blasters with the minimum of fuss.
Jamil has now won six and drawn three of the nine matches he's been in charge. Technically, tactically, aesthetically, arguably no side in the league has been better since he took over. It's been a spectacular reign, and he's not done yet. A playoff spot is the least their form deserved.
Entering this season, no one had given NorthEast a prayer. Nus allowed them to hope. Jamil has allowed them to dream.
FC Goa hold their nerve at the business end
Going into the last day of the season, FC Goa held all the aces in the race for fourth. They needed just a point, and on Sunday, they got just that. Yes, they may have failed well short of defending their league shield crown, but for a team that has been almost completely revamped over one short, brutal, summer, a sixth playoff qualification in seven years will count as a win. It's the kind of on-field consistency every club in the division hopes to achieve.
Hyderabad FC deserve praise
If ever two games encapsulated a team's season, it was Hyderabad FC 2 - 2 ATK Mohun Bagan and FC Goa 0 - 0 Hyderabad FC. In the first, they were desperately unlucky not to win, having bossed the game despite being down to ten against much more fancied opponents. In the second, they started with major handicaps -- best forward and best defender suspended, another key cog injured (Aridane Santana, Chinglensana Singh, Asish Rai) -- and yet almost got the three points that would have carried them into a fairytale fourth-placed finish.
Instead, they finish fifth, having won everyone's heart and having absolutely lit up the division. Manolo Marquez and his team deserve all the praise in the world for that.
East Bengal and Odisha finish in spectacular fashion
On Tuesday, SC East Bengal had a man sent off as they lost 2-1 to NorthEast. On Wednesday, Odisha FC had all eleven on the pitch as Mumbai City smashed six past them. In a season that has been full of disappointment, these results were as expected.
Which makes what happened on Saturday all the more special.
In all there were eleven goals. Odisha scored six, East Bengal five. They came in all shapes and sizes -- long-range screamers, goalkeeping howlers, slapstick comedy, sensational first-time volleys, well-worked team goals. It was thrill-a-minute and exactly what the neutral wanted to see in a match between two sides at the bottom that was completely irrelevant to the larger picture. Sure, the defending oscillated between awful and non-existent, but when you see an all-time league record for most goals scored in a match, all that seems immaterial.
So now, Robbie Fowler has ended his first league season in India with a loss. Steven Dias has signed off with a first win as senior coach.
Player of the week - Bartholomew Ogbeche
A sensational diving header to equalise against Odisha followed by another thumping one to make it three. A classic poacher's finish to make it two against ATK Mohun Bagan. Two games, three headers, one league shield. For a man who has not started much all season, Bart Ogbeche stood up and delivered when it mattered most, and for that he's our player of the week.