The I-League's first weekend saw all teams in action, with some results as expected and a couple of surprises. Debayan Sen assesses all the action.
Bengaluru FC - 8/10
A near-perfect start for the hosts, and commendable because it saw two youngsters play starring roles. While Udanta Singh's two goals weren't a surprise, considering how his stock has been rising across the last two years for the team, it was Sena Ralte, who was the biggest hit on Bengaluru debut. Albert Roca's philosophy of keeping possession and building from the back was adhered to faithfully. The only worrying bit was Sunil Chhetri's form, and perhaps Roca would consider resting his captain for the odd game and then giving him some game time in the lead up to the AFC Champions League preliminary match on January 31.
Mumbai FC - 7/10
Mumbai FC's new coach Santosh Kashyap would have wanted three points and a solid defensive performance from his team to kick off their new season, and the team ticked all the boxes against DSK Shivajians, who have a pretty solid roster this season. Thoi Singh, who used to be a Cooperage star back in his time with Mahindra United seven-eight years ago, returned with Mumbai FC to give them an early goal, from where they held the reins of the game. Laxmikant Kattimani notched up a clean sheet on his Mumbai FC debut, and Kashyap also showed the bench strength in good light by bringing on the highly-rated Nikhil Kadam as a second-half substitute for Steven Dias.
Mohun Bagan - 6/10
Mohun Bagan got the win that they would have been hoping for, as Balwant Singh scored the winner against his former club Churchill Brothers, but the fluency in their game was visible only in spurts. With Pritam Kotal putting in a solid shift from the right, and Kean Lewis making his presence felt on the left, Katsumi Yusa was not as effective as he's been in previous seasons. Darryl Duffy operated well as a withdrawn forward, and that could be a vital strategy once Jeje Lalpekhlua starts up front. The 2015 champions will also have to keep an eye out on discipline, with Subhasish Bose picking up the first red card of the new season for any team.
Aizawl - 6/10
Aizawl would have gone into their away match against East Bengal happy to come out with a point, and they almost did better than that, before eventually settling for a scored draw. Khalid Jamil's side were compact in their formation, and quick on the counter-attack. They led for the most part and ran the East Bengal midfield ragged with their energy -- good portents for when they will be hosting games in the altitude of Mizoram.
Churchill Brothers - 5/10
Two-time champions Churchill Brothers were coming back to the league after a three-year hiatus, and put in a decent effort despite having lost a number of their best players in the last few years. Keenan Almeida was dogged in defence, Surchandra Singh and Brandon Fernandes kept the Mohun Bagan defenders on their toes, and from time to time, Clifford Miranda showed why he had a pretty long run as one of India's best left-sided midfielders not so long ago. They did miss the finishing touch, though, and that could turn out to be their biggest Achilles heel for this season.
Chennai City - 5/10
There wasn't much wrong that the I-League debutants did, but there wasn't much to write home about either. Karanjit Singh was a reliable presence between the posts, but it was in going forward that the team appeared short on ideas. The three foreigners - Marcos, Charles and established I-League stalwart Haroon Amiri -- all appeared in bit parts, and coach Robin Charles Raju will look to them to play a bigger role as the team begins to gel better and find its feet.
Minerva Punjab - 5/10
The result was a huge positive for Minerva Punjab, picking up a point from an away game, but the I-League debut for the first team from Punjab in six years was underwhelming. There wasn't a lot of attacking intent apart from Manandeep Singh, and the younger brigade of Uttam Rai, Vinit Rai and Krishna Pandit will have to start creating options for the team to notch up goals more often. Against better opposition, their defence will also be stretched and that is why they must look at their goalless draw as a missed opportunity to start their I-League with an away win.
DSK Shivajians - 5/10
Full marks to coach Dave Rogers for fielding a strong Shivajians lineup to start with - he put teenager Lallianzuala Chhangte to support Kim Song Yong, and also got Sanju Pradhan to support the talented Spaniard Juan Quero in midfield. Rogers would have expected the centre-back Sasa Kolunija to thwart any aerial threat from Mumbai FC -- keeping in mind that the compact nature of the Cooperage makes the header a favoured mode of scoring -- but it was from a Thoi Singh header that the home side scored the winner. The team appears to have quality, though, and could be a tougher team to play against in Pune.
East Bengal - 4/10
East Bengal would have fancied their chances of opening with a win against Aizawl FC in Barasat, but their plans were undone by a combination of their opposition's cussedness and their own lack of imagination in the final third. Coach Trevor Morgan started with a ploy of operating Mohammed Rafique as the lone striker, but it was in defence that the chinks first appeared. Both Anwar and Gurwinder Singh were often caught out by the pace from the Aizawl players, and it was one such move tracking back that led to the first Aizawl goal. The only foreign player to start, Wedson Anselme, looked good on the ball but was often guilty of late decision-making, and it was only when Willis Plaza and Ivan Bukenya came on as second-half substitutes that business picked up for the hosts. Their first 90 minutes this season weren't indicative of a team likely to give the opposition sleepless nights, though.
Shillong Lajong - 4/10
The eventual score of 3-0 in favour of champions Bengaluru FC was perhaps appropriate, given the number of chances the home side were able to create against Lajong. Lajong's tactics of fortifying their defence first came as no surprise, though their execution of it could have been better. Vishal Kaith in goal swung between decisive and comical, and it was only the excellent work by Yuta Kinowaki that prevented Bengaluru from scoring their three goals in the first half itself.