Indian Super League 2018 season preview - It is bigger, will it be better?
The longer schedule means that the clubs have gone with players who will be available for the entirety of the tournament and that means there will be a slight dearth in international footballersUpdated: Sep 29, 2018 11:41 IST
A five-month calender, lack of marquee signings and a bunch of new faces — this year’s Indian Super League (ISL) is going to be a bit different. The tournament, which will be entering its fifth year, was always criticised for its short duration. But this time, it will be held for a much longer time with three breaks.
However, the longer schedule means that the clubs have gone with players who will be available for the entirety of the tournament and that means there will be a slight dearth in international footballers who are well known around the world but are on the wrong end of their 30s.
With the ISL season just round the corner, here’s a look at the ten teams vying for the title -
The defending champions were able to hold to their core players and that will be their biggest strength in the new season. With youngsters like Jerry Lalrinzuala, Anirudh Thapa and Sinivasan Pandiyan providing support in the midfield, John Gregory has created a good bunch of Indian talent at his disposal. Add their new signings - Spanish midfielder Andrea Orlandi, Brazilian defender Eli Sabia and Palestine international striker Carlos Salom - to the mix and the two-time winners have a brilliant chance of becoming the first side ever to defend their title in Indian Super League history.
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The first word that comes to mind when talking about Bengaluru FC is consistency. The three-time I-League champions were the most dominant force in Indian football and it was much different when they joined ISL last year. The Sunil Chhetri-led side impressed everyone with their performance and were the favourites to win the title before they lost to Chennaiyin FC in the summit clash. This year, they will looking for revenge under new coach Carles Cuadrat and the team has no dearth of firepower. The trio of Chhetri, Miku and Udanta Singh made them one of the best attacking sides of ISL and the addition of I-League top-scorer Chencho Gyeltshen will further strengthen their position.
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FC Pune City
Iain Hume, Emiliano Alfaro and Marcelinho - The three experienced strikers form the backbone of a strong side that make FC Pune City one of the dark horses for the title this season. With experienced coach Miguel Angel Portugal at the helm, the team looked quite strong paper and they will be looking to go the distance after falling in the semi-finals last time. The attackers will be supported well by the likes of Diego Carlos, Ashique Kuruniyan, Nikhil Poojari and Gabriel Fernandes who will be looking to produce swift counter-attacks. The defence, however, does not look that strong and the fans will be looking at new signing Matt Mills (ex-Leicester City player) to plug the holes in the back line.
The last season was absolutely disastrous for the two-time champions as they struggled to score for the majority of the competition and ended up finishing in the ninth position. However, they have made some smart buys ahead of this season and the Kolkata-based side will be eyeing redemption. The biggest addition has been the appointment of Steve Coppell as head coach as the Englishman is no stranger to the competition and he will provide the much needed insight to the struggling side. On the transfer front, ATK have made three big buys - Kalu Uche, Manuel Lanzarote, John Johnson - and have also invested heavily in Indian talents like Komal Thatal, Sena Ralte and midfielder Cavin Lobo.
Mumbai City FC
The Islanders have been quite busy in the transfer market after finishing seventh last season and with a host of new faces in the mix, they will be targeting the play-offs. When it comes to foreign players, they have signed Portuguese midfielder Paulo Machado who has played for the likes of FC Porto and Olympiakos, Moudou Sougou, Rafael Bastos and former Delhi Dynamos midfielder Matias Mirabaje. The have also added several big Indian names to their squad - Indian U-23 football team skipper Subhasish Bose, Souvik Chakraborty, Shouvik Ghosh, Raynier Fernandes, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy.
Add head coach Jorge Costa to the mix and Mumbai City FC will surely be dreaming of their first title.
NorthEast United FC
The Highlanders have been the perennial underachievers of the Indian Super League and they are also the only team to never reach the play-off stage of the competition. However, with Eelco Schattorie as head coach and a completely new batch of foreign players, they will be looking to finally break the jinx. The most notable signing among them is former PSG striker Bartholomew Ogbeche. He will be joined by the likes of Mato Grgic, Mislav Komorski, Jose David Leudo, Federico Galego, Augustine Okrah, Juan Cruz Mascia. When it comes to the Indian players, Nikhil Kadam, Rupert Nongrum from ATK, Kivi Zhimomi and former East Bengal captain Gurwinder Singh are the most notable additions.
The debutants had a mixed season last year but with the signing of Australia veteran Tim Cahill, they have made a strong statement ahead of this year’s competition. The 38-year old has played in a number of big leagues around the world and his inclusion will be a big boost to their popularity. The appointment of ex-Atletico Madrid manager Cesar Ferrando has also seen a huge influx of Spanish talent with Carlos Calvo, Sergio Cidoncha, Mario Arques, Pablo Morgado signing for the team ahead of this season. While attacking remains their strength, the side will have to work on their defence after replacing centre backs Anas Edathodika and Andre Bikey with Raju Gaikwad and Sanjay Balmuchu.
The striking duo of Manuel Lanzarote and Ferran Corominas were instrumental in taking FC Goa to the play-offs last year. However, the departure of Lanzarote was a big blow to Sergio Lobera’s team and the onus will be on replacement Miguel Palanca to perform from the very first match. Last season, defence was a major concern for FC Goa and the addition of Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena will be good news for the fans. Although both footballers are new to Indian football, their records have impressed coach Lobera. When it comes to Indian players, Jackichand Singh from Kerala Blasters was the biggest name to join along with experienced players like Nirmal Chettri and Lenny Rodrigues.
In Josep Gambou, Delhi Dynamos have a coach who has been immensely successful in Asia. He won two league titles in Hong Kong with Kitchee FC and Australia’s premier knock-out competition, FFA Cup, with Adelaide United. With such an accomplished coach at the helm, they will be confident of reaching the play-offs and their transfer policy reflects a similar kind of confidence. Dynamos have roped in Marcos Tebar and Rene Mihelic while Andrija Kaluderovic will be expected to replace Kalu Uche as the main striker.Among the Indian recruits, the most valuable signing for Dynamos was India international defender Narayan Das who will be partnering Pritam Kotal in central defence.
After a disappointing run in the last season, Kerala Blasters will be looking to bounce back under the watchful eyes of coach David James. The Kochi-based franchise has made several changes in their squad this season with four new foreign players - defender Cyril Kali, midfielder Nikola Krcmarevic and striker duo Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic. When it comes to Indian signings, Dheeraj Singh and Naveen Kumar add strength to the goalkeeping department while Halicharan Narzary, Seminlen Doungel and Jithin MS will add much needed experience to the Blasters midfield.
First Published: Sep 28, 2018 12:28 IST