ISL 2018-19: Why Delhi Dynamos will be the surprise package of the league this season
In ISL 2017-18, the Delhi Dynamos almost became a laughing stock. Early season confidence from those at the club soon evaporated as the team never really got started in the league last year, losing 7 of their first nine games, winning one and drawing the other.
The team from the national capital improved in the second half of the season, garnering 19 points from the back half of the season, but the damage was done early in the season, and they could never really recover from it.
This new season sees renewed hope for the Lions. What, with tickets for Rs.49 and all! Rohan Sharma, the vocal Director of the Delhi Dynamos has this year, put together a squad that, on paper, looks primed for a much better tilt at the league than they were last year.
Spaniard Josep Gombau has taken over the managerial reins from Miguel Angel Portugal, but he has promised that the style and philosophy will not change. Gombau, from his days with the Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League, is known to bring up young talents and groom them into players capable of delivering on the big stage.
The biggest additions to the squad come in midfield, in the form of Marcos Tebar and Rene Mihelic. Last year, none of Delhi's foreign midfielders really punched to their weight. All of Guyon Fernandes, Paulinho Dias and Matias Mirabaje put in performances that ranged from underwhelming to downright pathetic
Also, the lack of a left-back meant that the promising Jeroen Lumu would have to be played in a position he wasn't really used to. Maybe, the club director's real tears should've come then, as a promising midfielder had to be played out of position because of pressing needs.
Tebar is a class act and a proven leader of men. He will be the perfect foil to the talented young brigade at the Dynamos. Mihelic, on the other hand, didn't really get enough chances at Chennaiyin FC last year, but in his limited time on the pitch, he showed that he is a class act. Sharma has promised that Delhi's system and philosophy will not change. So that will suit Mihelic perfectly, as he is someone who is capable of nailing down that no.10 role for himself in a possession-based system.
This year, one can at least be assured that Delhi will, fitness permitting, have a left-back playing at left-back, with the Lions having acquired the services of Narayan Das from FC Goa for the season. Along with Pritam Kotal, Narayan will ensure that the full-back positions for Delhi are manned by Indian national team quality players, which is a big leap from having to play an attacking player there last season.
Overall, the Delhi defence too looks in much better shape than it was last season. The Lions were comfortably the worst defensive team last season, shipping 37 goals in their 18 games. With a record like that, conceding two goals a game, you're never going to be in with a shout of anything worthwhile. One can only hope, for Delhi's sake, that Gianni Zuiverloon and Marti Crespi fare better than Gabriel Cichero and Edu Moya did last season.
Zuiverloon brings Premier League experience to a defence that also has exciting young prospects in it. Sajid Dhot and Jayananda Singh broke into the first team as well, and they will add to the competition for places in the Delhi squad this season.
It must also be noted that for a large part of last season, Delhi were bereft of the services of their first-choice goalkeeper Albino Gomes, who suffered a long-term injury in their third game against NorthEast United. He is back now, and they've also added a foreign goalkeeper in the Spaniard Francisco Dorronsoro.
There were eyebrows raised when their captain and top-scorer from last season, Kalu Uche's contract was not extended, but Delhi's attack remains strong. The Serb Andrija Kaluderovic comes in with a prodigious goal-scoring record, and their young Indian brigade will only be in better shape this year, having gained so much experience last season.
Daniel Lalhlimpuia, in particular, will be one to watch out for. Having made the move north from last year's runners-up, Bengaluru FC, the Mizo striker will be looking to fulfil his potential, in an environment that has proven to be suited to youngsters and their development.
In his time at Bengaluru, Daniel showed that he is one of the most talented young strikers in the country. If only he could have his shooting boots on more often than he did for the Blues, he'd be in ready reckoning to travel to the UAE in January for the Asian Cup. What you'll get with Daniel is top-class movement, fantastic vision while in possession, and then you just pray when he's in front of goal.
Along with Daniel, Delhi are blessed with fantastic options going forward. Lallianzuala Chhangte has, for long, been touted as the next big thing in Indian football. Nandhakumar Sekar had a fabulous breakout season last term and will be raring to prove last season was no fluke. Romeo Fernandes is a proven ISL performer as well. Vinit Rai's composure on the ball stood out last season, and with the calm head of Tebar alongside him, he is expected to scale greater heights this season.
In conclusion, one wouldn't be wrong in saying that this Delhi squad has a fabulous mix of experienced heads and exciting young talent. Underestimate the Lions at your own peril.