Foreign Signings in the ISL Part I – The First 5 Clubs

[Date: 03-9-2017]

So, I will be dividing the review of foreign signings into two posts. There are 10 teams, after all and every one of them has made foreign signings (Yes, even NEUTD FC…).

In this post, I will focus on Amar, Tomar, Kolkata (remember to use sarcasm tone), Kerala Blasters FC, Delhi Dynamos (haha Vogliotti), Mumbai City FC, and Northeast United FC (get someone, FFS).

From the outset, let me say that I like the business done by the previous year’s finalists, ATK and KBFC. They’ve gotten in big names and more importantly, they’ve gotten in some very effective players. The dark horse in this group will be Delhi Dynamos. Even with the Vogliotti faux-glioti fiasco, their objective of playing the South American brand of football interests me. I want to see how it works in India particularly considering our climate. Let’s go then. Continue reading

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Mumbai City FC vs. NorthEast United FC Review

Unforced Error Takes Down NorthEast United FC

Mumbai City FC and NorthEast United FC, before this game, were two of three teams in the Indian Super League with 100% record i.e. wins, wins, and only wins. Something had to give and it did. Nelo Vingada tried to be tactical about the game and set up his team to counter the threat of Diego Forlan. His team did well up until they shot themselves in the foot, with a ball of lead.

The NorthEast United FC strategy was to sit back, soak up pressure, and hit Mumbai City FC on the counter. For the most part, they translated their strategy onto the pitch wonderfully. The problem was an unforced error from Didier Zokora. Zokora started in defence so the key matchup was Zokora vs. Forlan. Zokora lost since he was the one who messed up.

Until the goal, the pattern of the game was this: Mumbai City FC trying to free Forlan through balls over the top as well as defence-splitting passes. Throughout that period, the NorthEast defence was on the ball. This should have been a draw. Mumbai City FC didn’t deserve the three points. A draw would’ve been fair.

By the way, is it just me or does Forlan look like the BFG while other players on the pitch look like Sophie? He looked like a damn giant. I don’t remember him being so huge when he used to play for Manchester United.

Team News for Mumbai City FC and NorthEast United FC

Subrata Paul, NEU FCWith the kind of performances they’ve been putting in, you wouldn’t really expect NorthEast United FC to make changes to their starting 11. However, it is NEU FC of the two teams who made all the changes largely because of the facts that this is their third game and one of their key players is already injured.

For this game, NorthEast United FC brought Nicolas Leandro Velez for Wellington Priori who didn’t have that much of a great game last time. The second change was the inclusion of Seityasen Singh for Holicharan Narzary – what I could only assume to be due to fitness issues because Narzary had a great game last time. The last change for Northeast United was the season’s first start for their marquee player Didier Zokora. He started the game in place of Mailson Alves in what was his secondary position of central defender.

The people to watch in this game from the NorthEast United side on the basis of form alone were Subrata Paul, Velez, Emiliano Alfaro, and even Rowllin Borges

On the opposite end, Mumbai City FC chose to put out an unchanged field. Partly, the reason for this was that this was only their second game of the season and largely the reason was that six of their squad members were unavailable through either injury or less intense fitness issues. Important players that Mumbai City FC will miss include Boithang Haokip, Jackichand Singh, Sony Norde, and Facundo Cardozo.

The players to watch from Mumbai City FC’s perspective include the high-flying Matias Defederico, the legendary Diego Forlan (someone whose potential arrival we talked about last year), and even the Hungarian Krisztian Vadocz.

Mumbai City FC Started Well in a Generally Tepid Half

matias-defederico-mumbai-city-fcThe general sense of the game was tepid. There wasn’t a lot to talk about in this game until the very end of the first half. This was mainly because of NorthEast United FC’s strategy. Their plan was to sit back and try to hit Mumbai City FC on the counter largely because they had to counter the Forlan-Defederico-Costa trident.

They were successful as Mumbai City FC tried to unlock their defence but failed. Despite the fact that they didn’t get through, Defederico lit up the stadium with his early first half performance. He did everything from a sublime back heel pass to beating his man on the dribble and unleashing a swerving shot just off the target.

Even so, the first proper chance of the game fell to NorthEast United FC’s Koffi Christian N’dri or Romaric, as he is primarily called.  Romaric’s volley from the edge of the box left Subrata Paul unsighted but the mature Indian goalkeeper managed to go down low to his left and save the shot.

Like NorthEast United FC, Mumbai City FC’s first proper chance also came through a long range shot. The shot taker was the full back Aiborlang Khongjee. Khongjee wasn’t closed down by NorthEast United FC, who probably didn’t take him seriously enough. The resultant long distance shot had dip and bounced in front of Roberto Volpato Neto, who still managed to push it away for a corner.

Good Finish To a Dull First Half

katsumi-yusa-northeast-united-fcBy the end of the first half, NorthEast United FC had measured the mettle of Mumbai City FC and decided to come out of their shell a little. They became more daring with their counterattacks. That is precisely how they had a very interesting penalty claim when Alfaro went down inside the Mumbai City FC penalty box.

Alfaro had gotten free on goal but decided to try and beat the defender sliding in by turning back. However, he turned back into the oncoming tackle and went down. Luckily for Mumbai City FC, the defender got the ball before he swept Alfaro off his feet and into his lap.

The best chance of the game also fell to NorthEast United FC when Katsumi Yusa got free inside the box. Sadly, his touch let him down. The ball rolled too far and he leant too far back while taking the shot. As always seems to happen when strikers lean back, the shot was sliced into the sky. It looked like the incoming Mumbai City FC tackle put Yusa off. Lastly, Alfaro took a shot from the edge of the box. The shot was well struck but it was turned away a brave defender’s thick skull.

Mumbai City FC Take the Lead to Open Up the Game

diego-forlan-mumbai-city-fcMumbai City FC started the second half better. The difference was the speed of their passing which was faster than what they managed in the first half. The slight tweak to their strategy didn’t have anything to do with how they took the lead, though. They got the lead because of an unforced error from none other than Didier Zokora who tried to be too suave with his cross-field pass inside his own penalty box.

The NorthEast United FC full-back, Reagan Singh tried to manage the tough pass but slipped into the feet of Pronay Halder. In his bid to get the ball back, Singh swivelled on his bum and tried to tackle Halder who fell over. The awarded penalty was, obviously, taken by Diego Forlan who made no mistake. Mumbai City FC 1 – 0 NorthEast United FC.

Subrata Paul, however, deserves a mention. The in-form Indian goalkeeper managed to get a strong glove on the ball but the power of the penalty pulled the ball through.

NorthEast United FC – Forever Alone!

jerry-mawihmingthanga-northeast-united-fcThe suicide pass from the NorthEast United FC defence put a spanner in their well-planned machine. It warranted a change in strategy, the instrument of which was Holicharan Narzary, who came on for Seityasen Singh.

This game also happened to give us all our first chance to see the 18-year-old Jerry Mawihmingthanga – someone who took a week-long training programme at the Melwood training ground of Liverpool’s youth academy. He came on for the defensive minded, Borges.

Narzary almost scored in the 79th minute as he cut in from the right flank and lashed a curling shot towards the top corner. The keeper was well-beaten but the shot swerved wide into the side netting. For the rest of the half, NorthEast United FC tried very hard to get that elusive equaliser. Unfortunately, their efforts were only as useful the efforts of many of our readers to get a girl to like them. In case you’re slow of thought, that means Mumbai City FC won!

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FC Pune City vs. Mumbai City FC Review: FCPC Down MCFC at Home

FC Pune City vs. Mumbai City FC

Of the first round of Indian Super League 2015 season, this is the match that I was looking forward to most. Yes, it wasn’t FC Goa’s game nor was it the game between Chennaiyin and Atletico. It was this one because Mumbai City FC’s squad excites me. Moreover, even FC Pune City’s squad isn’t all that bad.

While Mumbai City FC’s squad is very attacking in personality, FC Pune City’s squad is more balanced. However, the astuteness that Nicolas Anelka has shown in the transfer market is something that has shown me that he has a very good managerial perception. So, I really want to see what his team will be able to do on the pitch. In contrast, I am still not convinced with David Platt.

Team News for FC Pune City and Mumbai City FC

Mumbai City FC - Frederic PiquionneThere were a couple of interesting placements by the two managers in defining their first elevens.

David Platt left Adrian Mutu on the bench on account of a minor niggle and instead put Tuncay Sanli in the front line with support from Nicky Shorey and Manish Maithani from the wings.

He also left Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Jackichand Singh out of his starting line-up because of his international duties.

Nicolas Anelka went with Frederic Piquionne as his forward of choice as opposed to himself or even Sunil Chhetri (same reason as Jackichand and Lyngdoh), something that I didn’t agree with so much. The good bit was that he backed Piquionne up with Andre Moritz, Sony Norde, and Gabriel Fernandes. There was enough creativity in the attacking midfield to cover up for Piquionne limitations.

The really good bit was the formations of the two teams with both them going with an attacking setup of forward backed by forward wingers with Mumbai having a central attacking midfielder too.

Mumbai City FC Begin the Game on the Front Foot

Mumbai City FC started the game on the front foot with Piquionne leading the charge by reaching the by-line and cutting the ball back. He had a teammate in the middle of the box who took a snapshot straight at the keeper.

The Mumbaikars were getting a lot of joy with long balls over the top of the Pune defence. They won a few freekicks as well as connected with a few of those passes well within the first 10 minutes.

FC Pune City Take the Lead

Tuncay "The Mandarin" SanliRegardless of how much Mumbai City FC dominated the first few minutes, it was FC Pune City that broke the deadlock against the run of play.

The goal was a result of fast counterattacking football. Pune brought the ball forward from the left side of midfield led by Lenny Rodrigues who came up with a sumptuous through ball to Nicky Shorey.

The ball then travelled from the left to the right with a good pass from Shorey to Israil Gurung.

Gurung dropped a shoulder, kept his head, and released a pinpoint cross for The Mandarin (Tuncay Sanli) to attack.

The Mandarin converted with his head from point-blank range. FC Pune City 1 – 0 Mumbai City FC.

Mumbai City FC Level the Score

Mumbai City FC - Ashutosh MehtaFor the next 20 minutes or so, Mumbai City FC kept trying to go over FC Pune City’s defence as opposed to going through them.

However, it was going to pay off for them later in the 34th minute.

Mumbai City FC had a great chance to level the score when Frederic Piquionne controlled a long ball and put in a great cross to Norde. Norde, however, could only hit the woodwork.

It wouldn’t matter though because the ball bounced back into play and went to Ashutosh Mehta dropped in a peach of a cross into the middle of the Pune box. The cross curled, dipped, and looped straight onto the head of Piquionne who nodded the ball into the goal. FC Pune City 1 – 1 Mumbai City FC

Mumbai almost took the lead five minutes later when Gabriel beat his marker and cut the ball back to Andre Moritz who hit the shot well but it was straight at the keeper. There a few chances that Mumbai City FC created after going down by a goal. By the end of 45 minutes, they should’ve been up by at least one goal.

Second Half Begins With Heavy Focus on Tactics from Both Teams

FC Pune City - Israil GurungIn the half time window, I was hoping for Anelka and Mutu to come onto the pitch although I felt that both of them coming on would be unlikely.

The second half kicked off with the team exchanging punches. Even so, I felt that FC Pune City were getting the better of that exchange. Around the 50th minute, Didier Zokora got his customary yellow card. He is very friendly with cards; gets them whenever he can. I swear if he wasn’t a footballer, he would’ve been a Hallmark salesman – Didier “Hallmark” Zokora!

It all came to a head in the 56th minute when FC Pune City scored their second through The Mandarin. He scored with another header. The goal was a redux of the first strike with Israil Gurung providing the cross. Gurung’s cross this time, like last time, was top quality! FC Pune City 2 – 1 Mumbai City FC

FC Pune City Doubles the Lead

Mumbai City FC - Keegan PereiraHaving done his job, The Mandarin was taken off by David Platt. Who did he bring on? He brought on Mutu.

That’s not a bad player to bring on with 60 minutes gone. Anelka played his hand by bringing on Selim Benachour for the wayward and ineffective Moritz.

It didn’t make a lot of difference because luck favoured FC Pune City. Israil Gurung ran down the right wing and tried to put in another great cross.

However, as Keegan Pereira tried to block the cross, the ball snicked off his boot and looped over the head of his keeper into the far corner. It was an unfortunate goal. FC Pune City 3 – 1 Mumbai City FC

Anelka and Mutu Grace an Indian Grown Simultaneously

Mumbai City FC - Nicolas AnelkaThat goal meant that we would see Anelka and Mutu on the pitch at the same time.

And so it was with Anelka coming on in the 75th minute for Juan Aguilera Nunez.

Despite going down two goals, it was still FC Pune attacking and Mumbai City FC looked quite listless.

There was improvement when their manager came on to the pitch, though.

Once Anelka came on, everything was being run through him. He was actually having an impact as well with some nice passes, crosses, and one-twos. Even so, it wasn’t to make that much of a difference because there were to be no more goals.

Tactical Analysis: First Impressions + Projections

This was easily the most tactical game of the three we’ve see till now. The game would’ve probably ended level if it wasn’t for Gurung and Sanli’s almost telepathic connection. It’s good to see an Indian player having such a positive understanding with a world-class player.

On the other side, I think picking Moritz in the first eleven came back to bite Anelka in the arse because he was unbelievably unproductive. Essentially, the teams were well matched tactically and it was only the performance of certain players on the day that proved to be the difference.

Pune’s Gurung and Sanli clicked while Mumbai’s Norde and Moritz didn’t. Like the other two Indian Super League 2015 games, this game was also decided on the wings. Remember, Pune actually had three fullbacks on the field with Shorey plying his trade in the midfield. So, when Gurjinder Kumar was having a tough time, Pune switched him with Shorey and had a stable defence again.

It’s also worth remembering that both teams were lacking some key players. I would generally expect both Lyngdoh and Chhetri to start for their teams or at least make a difference some time.

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Anelka Drives Sunil Chhetri Auction Win!

Mumbai City FC Sign Sunil Chhetri

So, the most popular Indian player’s fate in the Indian Super League 2.0 is sealed. He was picked up by Mumbai City FC led by Anelka for no less than Rs 1.2 crore. The main contenders for Chhetri’s signature were, surprise surprise, Delhi Dynamos FC.

In fact, Delhi came very close to grabbing Chhetri with a bid of Rs 1.15 crore before Mumbai took it up a notch to the final price.

Most people expected Atletico De Kolkata to bid for Chhetri and there will be many long faces in the City of Joy as no bids came out.

However, I don’t really expect those faces to remain long for…err… long because I expect they will announce a marquee striker soon. Even if their marquee player turns out to be a playmaker, it’s not all doom and gloom for them because they already have the star of last season Iain Hume.

Sunil Chhetri’s Capture Shows Anelka’s Perspective

Mumbai City FC's Sunil Chhetri

Yay! I can learn from Anelka…

It’s interesting that Mumbai City FC acquired Chhetri since their marquee player – manager is Nicolas Anelka.

This is a sign of what Anelka thinks of his own fitness levels because if he felt that he could carry Mumbai City FC singlehandedly, he wouldn’t have bid for a striker.

This is also a good sign for mumbaikers because it shows that Anelka is not thinking with his ego and pride and is instead using his head with regard to leading Mumbai City FC.

Delhi Dynamos FC’s Competing Bid

Delhi Dynamos FC’s shambolic preparation for ISL 2 continued, however, as they couldn’t go all out for Sunil Chhetri. Delhi Dynamos FC, unfortunately, started really later with regard to preparing their squad and, I believe, part of the reason for that was that they didn’t have a manager.

As soon as Roberto Carlos confirmed his position with the capital’s team, the Dynamos management went into overdrive trying to secure players for their squad. However, while Delhi Dynamos FC failed to secure Sunil Chhetri’s coveted signature, they did managed to swoop in for the other high profile striker Robin Singh who was born and brought up in Delhi.

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How Have the ISL Marquee Players Performed This Season – Part II

The Bottom Dwellers Mumbai City FC and Northeast United FC

The first part of this series was all about the two best performing teams in the Indian Super League i.e. the champions Atletico De Kolkata and the runners up Kerala Blasters FC. In the second part, we will focus on the two worst performing teams i.e. Mumbai City FC and Northeast United FC.

Despite having a team with three different special stars, Mumbai City FC couldn’t perform in the league and the reason was twofold. First was that the fitness of two of those three stars was in question and the second was that they couldn’t build a team around those stars.

Mumbai City FC is also a prime example of how a team that looks good on paper may not perform so well on the pitch.

The second team covered in this post is Northeast United FC. There final position in the table is far more understandable than that of Mumbai City FC. They didn’t have the kind of funds that the bigwigs of the league enjoyed.

Moreover, their focus was more on building a team than building a team around individual stars. That is a long term task and the results of that can’t be expected in a period of three months.

The players have to train with each other and play with each other so they can get an understanding of how each of them makes runs, positions himself, passes, or crosses.

As is natural, the performances of the ISL marquee players of these teams are similar to the performances of their teams or vice versa. Consider.

Mumbai City FC’s Fredrik Ljungberg

Fredrik Ljungberg, Mumbai City FC

Fredrik Ljungberg, Mumbai City FC

I doubt there was any ISL marquee player who deserved the moniker more than Fredrik Ljungberg or who let the fans down as much.

The ex-Invincible was very poor simply because he was injured for most of the time. In fact, Ljungberg only made 4 appearances in the league.

That doesn’t even amount to 4 games as that would mean playing 360 minutes. Ljungberg only played 169 minutes. In terms of minutes, that’s less than 2 games.

How is a man supposed to make a difference in less than 3 hours? Even dates ask more time than that to evaluate whether a man is worth it or not. Heck the Indian bureaucracy takes that much time to have their lunch!

So, I’m not even going to bother giving you the shrivelled fruits of my research into Ljungberg’s statistics. Whatever little difference the man made to his team, he made it through his reputation and not his footballing skills.

Expected Rating**: 8.5 / 10

Final Rating: 3 / 10

It’s no secret that I’m an Arsenal fan. Any Arsenal fan would have huge expectations from Ljungberg. I have to be honest at the same time though. Ljungberg is another one of those players who relied a lot on their pace. Ljungberg is also a special case because he was at his best when he had other players who could contribute with subtle interplays. Since he left Arsenal, he hasn’t had that kind of teammates which is why his performance has dropped. So, my expectations were mainly due to my memories of him.

Mumbai City FC’s Nicolas Anelka

Nicolas Anelka, Mumbai City FC

Nicolas Anelka, Mumbai City FC

Nicolas Anelka is another ex-Arsenal ISL marquee player who arrived in India amidst a lot of fanfare. He possibly has what could be the worst case of wanderlust in the world and it was no surprise to me when it was announced that Anelka will be coming to India.

Just to put his wanderlust into perspective, in a career spanning 18 years, Anelka has changed clubs a whopping 13 times! What’s even more interesting is that he is yet to call time on his career.

Anelka’s stint with Mumbai City FC was similar to a lot of his other stints with mediocre clubs especially in his twilight years. Before he came to Mumbai, Anelka was playing for West Bromwich Albion.

He played 12 games for them in a season and managed to score 2 goals, which is exactly how many he scored for Mumbai City FC in 7 games. While this may not make it seem like Anelka stood out in the league, he did in one manner.

Anelka’s Shots on Target percentage is the best in the league if you only consider players with more than 10 shots. His percentage is 84.6 and the closest anyone else has come is Ranti Martins of FC Goa who had 81.8. Both played the same number of games, so it’s a level playing field.

While Anelka’s shot percentage may be very good, he didn’t look that effective to me. After seeing his numbers and recalling the way he was playing, I believe I now know why.

Anelka’s biggest problem at Mumbai City FC was lack of supply. His teammates couldn’t supply him with the chances that he needed to score goals. The result was that he shuffled to the flanks and dropped into midfield.

I personally noted that he either came to defensive midfield position or went to the flanks. While I don’t have the passing numbers, I did see that he crossed a lot. Anelka’s crosses were particularly high. In fact, he and Iain Hume were the only two strikers in top 20 for crosses in the league.

Anelka has always been a pacey finisher. He has always needed someone to supply him with opportunities to finish to be effective in a game of football. He didn’t get it at Mumbai City FC, which is why he didn’t light up the league.

Expected Rating**: 8.5 / 10

Final Rating: 7 / 10

Anelka is a big name and my expectations were based on that. Moreover, when I saw him last he still looked relatively fit to me. The management of Mumbai probably thought that he would combine well with Ljungberg which didn’t really work out because of Ljungberg’s absence.

Mumbai City FC’s Manuel Friedrich

Manuel Friedrich, Mumbai City FC

Manuel Friedrich, Mumbai City FC

Manuel Friedrich is a part of this list of ISL marquee players mainly because he has played for teams like Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, and the German national team. Each of those teams has been at the forefront of German football at one time or another in the last decade or so and if a player has turned out for them then he has to be good.

While it’s true that Friedrich has never been treated like a star, he does have consistency on his side. Statistically, Friedrich is another individual who doesn’t set the world alight. What he does, he does well, and he does it quietly.

He was a central defender for Mumbai City FC and did a very good job at the heart of it all. You might contradict with the fact that his team ended up conceding the most number of goals in the league at 21 but you would be forgetting that defence is a team’s assignment and not just one defender.

Friedrich has a penchant for scoring crucial goals when all hope is lost. He did it for Bayer, he did it for Dortmund, he did it for Mainz, and he did it for Mumbai. His goal came in the 75th minute against Atletico De Kolkata when Mumbai City FC needed to win to stay in contention.

While they didn’t make it in the end because they had left themselves too much to do, Friedrich did shine in that game against the team that would go on to become champions.

Expected Rating**: 5 / 10

Final Rating: 7 / 10

I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t know Friedrich before the ISL much. I had heard of him, of course, but that isn’t enough. This is why I’ve put my expected rating to a neutral of 5.

Northeast United FC’s Joan Capdevila

Joan Capdevila, Northeast United FC

Joan Capdevila, Northeast United FC

Joan Capdevila is one of the true blue idols who come from humble beginnings but end up becoming stars. He started out in the 3rd division in Spain with his home town team called Tarrega.

He went on to represent Espanyol, Atletico De Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna, Villareal, Benfica (Portugal), and the Spain national team in the next 18 years. Such was the popularity of Capdevila in his home town that they named the stadium after him.

Capdevila is a popular figure in Spain. He made his name during his stint with Deportivo La Coruna. That is also where I first saw him. I still remember him bombing down the left flank to the worrying beats of the defenders’ hearts.

While Capdevila isn’t as physically fit now as he was in his prime, he was still stable and steady on the left side of Northeast United FC’s central defensive trio or duo depending on which way Ricki Herbert chose to deploy his team.

The fitness of Capdevila was a matter of concern as is the case with players of his age but he still managed to string together 12 appearances for the Highlanders. Essentially, while Capdevila didn’t stand out, he wasn’t fish out of water either. He was never a player with a lot of creativity but he did what he did consistently which is how he played for Northeast United. His stint in the ISL must be viewed in that light.

Expected Rating**: 7 / 10

Final Rating: 7 / 10

I knew Capdevila from having watched him in the La Liga and Spain national team earlier so I wasn’t surprised with his steadiness. Moreover, I know he isn’t the most creative player so his lack of influence on the attacking side of the pitch didn’t surprise me either. All in all, his performance was exactly what I had expected.

What to Expect From the Next Analyses of ISL Marquee Players on ISL Blog

This analysis of ISL marquee players from the bottom dwellers didn’t break any new ground although Mumbai City FC’s plight did become more obvious. They were plagued by injuries to key players which is why they had such a poor showing this season. Similarly, Northeast United FC tried to do the best they could with their limited resources and I, for one, liked them for it.

In the next instalment, we’ll analyse the ISL marquee players of Chennaiyin FC which they had quite a few of. In fact, I believe them to be the most star studded team in the ISL. You’ll see what I mean. Stay tuned…

**Expected Rating: Rating I expected the player would get at the beginning of the league.

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