The Indian Super League official website has an article today on the four teams in the ISL semi finals.
Looking at the kind of stories that their official website churns out, it’s clear to me that they either don’t employ a good writer or have a research oriented editing team than anything else.
Everything on their website, for some reason, focuses on statistics. If they want to give a head to head, they give stats. If they want to analyse the semi-finalists, they make graphics based tables and display them.
Where is the thinking in that? Where is the innovation? Where is the style? Where is the story? Where is the magic? Now, I’m not saying that they should sensationalise everything. What I am saying is that they should give insights with those statistics.
I am writing this piece after seeing their pointless effort at explaining how the teams in the ISL semi finals stack up*. I think I can do a better job although I don’t know how effective my insights will be for you guys or even how accurate. Still, one must try or one will never learn.
I will analyse each of the 4 semi-finalists on the basis of three things. These will be:
- Their form coming into the ISL semi finals,
- Their strengths, & weaknesses, and
- What can they do to go further?
I believe these three things should act as a good report card for them. So, tally ho**!!!
Chennaiyin FC qualified from the first spot which essentially makes them the champions of the league phase. They boasted of a very vocal home support with a good number of Arsenal fans thrown in. They also went through the latter part of the league period without key players like Elano, Mendoza, Silvestre, Gouramangi, and a few others.
It was impressive how Chennaiyin FC and Marco Materazzi adapted because the hits they got in the season were quite serious and potentially debilitating. That resilience will help them a lot in the long run.
Chennaiyin FC have had a stop start end to the league phase before arriving to the ISL semi finals.
This can be attributed to the fact that they had all but confirmed their qualification very early.
They let their foot off the pedal and it showed in their performance. Loss of key players may have a lot to do with their drop in performance as well.
In their last 10 games they’ve had 3 wins and 5 draws. In their last six, they’ve won 3 times as well. Not exactly a team in great form but a well drilled and efficient team.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Chennaiyin FC’s main strength is not their team spirit, although it’s very good. It is Elano, plain and simple. If they get Elano back then they have a great chance of winning it all. Another strength of Chennaiyin FC is their defence which now even boasts of the legendary Alessandro Nesta.
They have two weaknesses, according to me. One is their attack. Don’t be surprised by this. They’ve scored a total of 24 goals of which 8 were Elano’s. Without Elano, they would be at 16. Equal to what Delhi Dynamos FC managed for the 5th spot. If they don’t get Elano back, their attack can be shut down.
Their second weakness is the temperament of Bernard Mendy. In their game against FC Goa, Andre Santos humiliated Mendy and Mendy couldn’t really take it. He picked up a yellow card. If someone does that to him regularly in one of the ISL semi finals, he will lose it and can pick up a sending off.
Chennaiyin FC’s future strategy depends entirely on whether Elano is available or not.
If Elano is back then they can follow their pre-injury strategy of funnelling everything through him.
If he hasn’t come back then they’ll rely on defence more with counterattacks.
This is exactly what Materazzi has been doing since Elano got injured. This strategy for me, commendable as it is, is not as effective as one Elano.
FC Goa have been lighting the league up. They’re disciplined, they have flair, they have combativeness, they have highly talented Indians, and most of all they have a brilliant manager.
They were pathetic in their early games but turned things around to reach the ISL semi finals in grandiose fashion. It wasn’t like they got new players either. They turned things around with the same players, the same manager, and the same fans. It should be called the Great Turnaround. Lame… I know.
FC Goa are clicking at just the right time. Don’t believe me?
Consider this. They’ve not lost in their last 8 matches!
Or this, in that period, they’ve won 5 games.
Or this, from their last 24 points, they’ve taken 18 points!
They would’ve been top but for a lucky penalty call from the referee in favour of Atletico De Kolkata***. They’re also the second most attacking team in the league and the team that has let in the second least number of goals in the league. They’ve scored 21 and let in 12.
Strengths & Weaknesses
In simple terms, FC Goa has lots of strengths so I’ll focus on the most pertinent ones. The first is that they have turned around their season from being bottom to being in the ISL semi finals. This means that they’ve seen the worse and know how to counter it.
This has relevance in various ways. For instance, even if they go a goal down in a game they won’t start feeling sorry for themselves. They are also currently peaking in terms of form which means that they’ll be uber confident.
Finally, they’re probably the only team in the league that doesn’t rely on its ISL marquee player. In fact, theirs, Robert Pires, hasn’t even played that often. They have a good old fashioned team where everyone contributes.
Please note that I’ve had to dig deep to find their weakness because as of now, none are visible overtly. In my humble opinion, they are a little lightweight. Oh, they fight back when pushed around especially led by Santos and Gregory but they aren’t going to win in an all-out physical contest.
Moreover, they play the only team in the last 4 that can provide such a physical challenge – Atletico De Kolkata. This could be a problem and an interesting conundrum for Zico.
Since I can only see one flaw in FC Goa, I can only try to project a solution for it. FC Goa must continue the way they’ve been playing. Romeo Fernandes, Andre Santos, and Mandar Desai, all need to be protected and encouraged.
As for their problem of an overly physical opponent, they mustn’t do anything. What does this mean?
They must learn to control their anger (especially Andre Santos), when the opponent tries to rile them up.
They can neither react in anger and lose their heads or start getting involved in a physical game that they can’t win. They mustn’t do anything. They must continue to play their game the way that only they can.
Atletico De Kolkata
Atletico De Kolkata has been an enigma in the league. They started on fire but then were doused by what I can only imagine to be an extremely sticky fire retardant substance like the booger from the nose of a huge ugly asbestos based monster.
Considering the marshy nature of West Bengal, I’m sure some exist somewhere there. Atletico De Kolkata lost their way fairly early into the campaign too. In fact, by the end of it, everyone had started worrying if they’ll miss out on the ISL semi finals displaying what would’ve been an unbelievable collapse.
The good thing is that they’ve drawn 6 times in their last 10 games. Their ability to draw is why they qualified.
The dip in Kolkata’s form came with the dip in the forms of Fikru Lemessa and Luis Garcia. To be honest with you, I don’t rate either of them that much.
I never liked Garcia even in his peak years and I definitely don’t like Fikru who is a bully and diver on the field. I do like the hard working nature of Fikru though. The man never gives up and you have to appreciate a quality like that.
Strengths & Weaknesses
I think Atletico De Kolkata have been hanging on by their toe nails and can thank their lucky stars for being where they are. Their greatest strength for me is their resilience.
They just don’t want to lose. When they’re losing they try everything from diving to intimidation. Regardless of how they channel their desperation, the desperation to win itself must be appreciated.
Their other strength is their physicality. In India, players aren’t all that physical. This is evident in the fact that the other 3 teams can’t match Kolkata when it comes to physicality.
Unfortunately, they are physical, they know it’s a unique quality, and this is why they can’t move past it to play football. They keep trying to be physical. They forget that they need to show some football skills too. This happens to be their greatest weakness because it keeps them from scoring goals.
There are two ways that Habas the Henchman can choose for his team in the ISL semi finals. The first is that he continues the way his team has been playing i.e. overly physical and overly defensive.
Before their last game, he exhibited an inclination to continue doing it. This is what I expect them to play like too.
The other way they can go is to become a little more like a football team. They could tone down their physicality and become more technical.
They don’t have many technical players apart from the Spaniards so I don’t see this happening.
Kerala Blasters FC
In the end, it was Atletico De Kolkata and not Kerala Blasters FC who had trouble qualifying for the ISL semi finals. Everyone thought it would be Kerala Blasters FC who were vying with every other team below them in the league except for Mumbai City FC.
They made it, though. Now, they’ll hope that David James is fit again to lead them in the middle of the pitch because he can make a huge difference in a match with his great goalkeeping skills.
Kerala Blasters FC have won 3 times in their last 6 games and 4 times in their last 10. It’s like they need 3 games to build up the nerve to win.
The good bit is that they’ve only lost twice in their last 10. This is largely because of James’s performances which have been excellent. He has been a better player than a manager in this season.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Kerala Blasters FC are the poorest team in the ISL semi finals and, indeed, the league when it comes to attacking. They’ve only scored 9 goals in 14 games despite of having Iain Hume in their team. Hume isn’t a bad striker. He just needs the right supply which is why I question James’s strategy.
You give Hume the right ball and he’ll finish it for you but the problem is that the ball is never there. James is a defensive manager it seems. His team has only let in 11 goals, which is the lowest in the league. This is probably why Hume suffers.
So, the strength is defence and weakness is attack or creativity. It’s also worth mentioning that Kerala Blasters FC have a very noisy home support even though they just make noise for the hell of it.
Indian fans, I think, still don’t know when to cheer and when not to. There are times I saw the Keralites in their stadium cheering a Blasters foul. They cheer when their team is suffering. They cheer the other team’s accomplishments. The drums are always playing. It’s like they are on ecstasy or something.
Kerala Blasters FC need to balance defence with attack so that the latter grows as much as possible while the former remains as steady as possible.
For me, James is being selfish in making his team defensive. He is their keeper so he’s enjoying the clean sheets I warrant.
Being a manager is about taking a step back. This is something that James hasn’t done. Or it could just be that defence is what he understands being a keeper and all.
If that’s the case, then it’s high time he took advice from his staff or even Hume. Some of them have to know how to attack, right?
A Final Word on ISL Semi Finals & ISL Finals
I may be biased but of the four teams I will pick FC Goa to reach and conquer the ISL finals. My second finalist is Chennaiyin FC who also happen to be my second favourite. I would be very surprised if neither of these teams manages to navigate the ISL semi finals successfully.
This was an extremely long post so I don’t know if you’ll get a preview for today’s game. However, I would like some comments and reviews from you guys who read me here. So, don’t hesitate with the comments.
*One thing that their report did show, however, is that the teams are on the right spots in the table statistically speaking. What do I mean? I’ll show you. The most attacking team in is Chennaiyin FC followed by FC Goa, Atletico De Kolkata, and Kerala Blasters FC. Educational? Consider defensive stats. Order is Atletico De Kolkata, Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, and Kerala Blasters FC. Barring the anomaly that is Kolkata on top, this is also similar to league standings. See what I mean now?
**If you don’t know what that is supposed to mean. I suggest visiting here.
***I’m still not convinced that wasn’t a call to satisfy the sponsors. Kolkata are a high profile team in the league that is very rich and has European connections. Always a conspiracy theorist, me.