The 2020-21 edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) started on a sombre note with the lockdown affecting the fitness of most players. This also meant that drinks breaks were scheduled in each half and five substitutes allowed during the course of a game.
Despite these efforts, the fitness of most players was called into question as the first week of the ISL saw a string of drawn games.
However, as games came thick and fast, most clubs started getting back to their best with some extraordinary performances. So far, there have been 103 goals scored this season with every indication that the previous season's record can be broken.
In fact, from the games played so far, only five have been goalless draws. The quality of football this season has improved without a doubt.
As the 2020-21 ISL approaches its halfway mark, let's take a look at a few talking points that could affect the rest of the season.
#1 Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan end the first half as favorites
The Islanders and the Mariners are two sides that have made it to the top of the ISL table this season in very different ways. While ATKMB have reinforced their defensive structure, Mumbai City FC have been at their attacking best.
Despite their contrasting styles, both clubs are favorites to finish with a trophy this season.
As things stand, Mumbai are currently top of the table with 22 points from nine matches, just two ahead of second-placed ATKMB.
#2 Kerala Blasters' big-name signings flop
With the last couple of seasons ending in disappointment for the Blasters, it was clear that a new approach was needed. Bringing in Kibu Vicuna, the man who led Mohun Bagan to the I-League title in the 2019-20 season was the first step.
The pre-season saw the Blasters consumed in recruitment, trying to bring in the best players money could buy.
In came Gary Hooper, Costa Nhamoinesu, Bakary Kone, Jordan Murray, and Vicente Gomez - all of whom have played in some of the biggest top-flight leagues in the world. Nishu Kumar came in on a multi-million dollar deal, and the squad looked incredibly strong on paper.
However, the season has not gone according to plan with the club currently sitting in ninth place on the ISL table.
The vultures seem to be circling for Kibu Vicuna and the pressure seems to be getting to him. The Spaniard will have to start churning out results if he wishes to keep his job in the second half of the season.
#3 Hyderabad FC - one of the most improved teams in the ISL?
The previous ISL season was a forgettable one for Hyderabad FC. With just two wins, the club saw themselves rooted to the bottom of the table in their inaugural ISL season.
The need for change was apparent, with the club deciding to rope in the experienced Manolo Marquez.
With a squad mostly comprising of youngsters, Hyderabad FC's chances of a better finish from last season looked slim. However, with a win in their first game of the season and a string of clean sheets, Manolo Marquez has done a terrific job as head coach.
Despite a few adverse results in recent times, the indication is that things can only get better for both Manolo Marquez and Hyderabad FC.
#4 SC East Bengal growing into the ISL
SC East Bengal's entry into the ISL was anything but ideal. With a few short weeks of pre-season and opening their ISL campaign with the Kolkata Derby, it can be argued that Robbie Fowler was dealt a bad hand.
Things went from bad to worse with a few refereeing decisions going against them and Fowler cribbing about the quality of Indian players in his ranks.
However, the goalless draw against Jamshedpur FC saw the Red and Gold brigade turn a corner by keeping their first clean sheet. The following game against Hyderabad FC saw Jacques Maghoma score the club's first goal in their brief history in the ISL.
Since then, Fowler's men have managed to hold Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin FC and beat Odisha FC, as they vacate the bottom of the table and move into the 10th position.
The signing of Bright Enobakhare will definitely add impetus in attack for SC East Bengal as they look forward to the second half of the season.
#5 Bengaluru FC - New season, old problems
The previous season of the ISL saw Bengaluru FC record one of their lowest goal tallies in a single season. Despite bringing in the likes of Deshorn Brown and Keavughn Frater, the problems persisted.
In a bid to resolve this issue, Carles Cuadrat went all out to sign the best possible strikers from Asia. Having retained the services of Deshorn Brown, Cleiton Silva and Kristian Opseth were signed.
However, while Cleiton Silva has hit the ground running for the Blues, Opseth and Brown continue to face issues when it comes to scoring goals. So far, neither Brown nor Opseth have scored a single goal this season.
The injury to Ashique Kuruniyan has also been a setback for the Blues as they have resorted to scoring goals from set-pieces and long throw-ins.
Needless to say, Carles Cuadrat will be shopping for a striker in the January transfer window which will give him a few more attacking options.
#6 A well-drilled NorthEast United FC
NorthEast United FC took many by surprises when they brought in Gerard Nus as their manager. At 35, Nus became one of the youngest-ever managers in the league.
However, with almost half the season played, Nus has managed to organize the side in such a way that most teams in the ISL cannot break them down.
Lalengmawia has also impressed quite a bit this season along with Rochharzela. It would seem too early to predict but the chances of NorthEast United making it to the ISL playoffs this season are quite high.
#7 Peter Hartley and Stephen Eze - A match made in heaven
Peter Hartley has been one of the most solid defenders in the ISL this season. Period.
The 32-year-old, who is a veteran of the lower leagues of English football has impressed one and all with his ability to read the game well and foil opposition attacks.
He has also managed to forge a good partnership with Stephen Eze at Jamshedpur FC.
The Nigerian has also been among the goals this season and has been extremely dangerous from set-pieces. In terms of attack, Jamshedpur have been quite impressive with Nerijus Valskis, Aitor Monroy, and Jackichand Singh combining rather well.
As things stand, Jamshedpur FC is in fourth place on the table and is expected to seal a playoff spot at the very least.
Published 06 Jan 2021, 09:54 IST