The Indian Super League (ISL) witnessed a pivotal Matchweek 17, with the playoff race taking twists as Bengaluru FC defeated Chennaiyin FC. Mumbai City produced two goals in the final ten minutes to comeback against Jamshedpur and extend their lead at the top of the table.
ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters laboured for their victories, while FC Goa did not - keeping all of them in the playoff hunt, while Odisha FC continued their losing streak.
We muse, on the latest round of ISL fixtures.
Sivasakthi Narayanan is special
Amongst those who follow local football more closely than most of us, there was always an inkling that Sivasakthi was special -- but there had been some seeds of doubt sown during the initial stages of this season. Could he really do it in India's top division? If the last few matches are anything to go by, the answer to that is: hell yes.
Granted it's a small sample size, and granted that this weekend's brace came against an almost comically inept Chennaiyin defence, but it's the way he took his two finishes that make him stand out. The presence of mind, the calmness, the absolute commitment to finishing with the minimal fuss: The delightful little chip for his second wasn't executed for its aesthetic value, but rather because that looked the simplest way to get the ball into the back of the net from where he was standing.
A quick brace on the big occasion earned #Sivasakthi the Hero of the Match Award! 🔵🔥#BFCCFC #HeroISL #LetsFootball #BengaluruFC | @bengalurufc pic.twitter.com/de3EmQqkj1
- Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) January 28, 2023
He's benefited immensely playing through the centre with Roy Krishna just behind him. That tweak plus the perma-introduction of Rohit Kumar seems to have done the trick for Bengaluru FC. They are building up some right proper momentum going into the business end of the season.
As for Chennaiyin, this game encapsulated the pain and promise of following this side -- attacking smoothness, an ability to control possession, and a propensity to make a silly mistake to undo it all. The playoffs look a very, very tough task this season, but there's enough signs that with some strengthening this is a unit that could go places soon.
Mumbai City dig deep and find a champion's resolve
Sixteen games played. Three drawn. Thirteen won. We say this every week, but some things are worth repeating on loop - this season's Mumbai City are quite something.
The difference from the previous weeks, though, is that this time they had to dig deeper than they have all season to get that win. A down and out Jamshedpur City played with more verve than we've seen all season and for eighty minutes that appeared to have thrown the league leaders into disarray. Passes didn't stick, dribbles died quietly in non-descript cul-de-sacs, shots refused to hit the target.
Till one did.
Lallianzuala Chhangte's transformation from Indian football's great tease to absolute gamechanger has been a major talking point this season, and he came up with the goods again -- a goal and an assist (to Vikram Singh) that kept Mumbai's rather astonishing run going strong. They were second best for vast swathes of the match, and yet they walked away with three points. This kind of result a true champion side gets.
Goa are balling, East Bengal not so much
Goa appear to be fun again. Whether it be Zico or Sergio Lobera or Derrick Pereira or Juan Ferrando, 'fun' has always been the central tenet around which a successful FC Goa team went about their business. Carlos Pena's men struggled to find it for much of the first half of the season, but the little glimpses they showed are now weaving themselves into a recognizable pattern -- and that's shone through in their last two games.
Against East Bengal, Iker Guarrotxena showed off the goalscoring-from-midfield prowess that had made Carlos Pena go all in on him, while Brandon Fernandes reminded Stephen Constantine of the pure technical quality he had often overlooked as national team manager. And that was more than enough to blow them away. Goa have a tough run-in but if they keep playing like this, a playoff spot should be theirs.
As for East Bengal... they appear to simply be going through the motions. The thing that will hurt their mammoth fan base the most, though, is that apart from some individual quality (the finishing of Cleiton Silva, the passing of Naorem Mahesh Singh, and the movement of VP Suhair) it's looked like that since day one.
Ferrando is the new Habas
Take that old, winning, ATK side. Use some of their trademark stodgy defending. Mix in a few pacy wingers. Replace Roy Krishna with Dimi Petratos and David Williams with Hugo Boumous. Behold! The 2022-23 vintage of ATK Mohun Bagan.
If Juan Ferrando was brought in to make this always super-talented squad play more attractive football, it remains a work in progress a season and half into the project. This was in strong evidence once again when a Petratos brace gave them a very comfortable, very boring win against Odisha on Saturday. They remain comfortably in charge of their own playoff destiny -- but that's never going to be enough to satisfy the vast green and maroon section of the maidan is it?
Meanwhile, big cliff, meet Odisha FC... they're the ones in free fall right in front of your face.
The Blasters do what the Blasters have to, barely
A strong first half performance saw the Kerala Blasters breeze past NorthEast United 2-0 in Kochi, despite the home side doing absolutely nothing in the second forty-five. As much as it is an indictment of the sheer hopelessness of the NorthEast side, it's a slightly worrying sign for a manager who has always demanded pedal-to-the-metal football.
Much like ATKMB, they remain firmly in control of their playoff destiny, but Ivan Vukomanovic will want to make sure they go into the knockout phases with momentum on their side, especially given the tough run-in they face. The injuries and the inactivity in the January transfer market don't help, but that's the big task in front of Kerala's favourite Serbian right now.