The teams are slowly starting to settle in, patterns are starting to emerge, and in certain quarters, the pressure is starting to tell. Here's what we made of a fun week in the 2020-21 ISL season.
Kerala Blasters' schoolboy errors
If any coach has the right to complain about schoolboy errors, it's Kibu Vicuna. While his team have shown a remarkable commitment to his let's-always-pass-out-of-the-back philosophy, their tendency to misplace said passes is quite alarming.
Against FC Goa, they should have conceded a tennis score through their mistakes alone, their biggest -- goalkeeper Albino Gomes rolling a ball straight into Igor Angulo's path -- was punished by Goa for their third goal of the match. Albino had stopped another mistake proving costly just a few days previously (a penalty save against Chennaiyin FC), but this team will not get far if they don't work these basic errors out of their game.
You can see glimpses of what Vicuna's ultimate goal is, but without the vision of someone like a Sahal Abdul Samad enabling the ball to get to the feet (or head) of Gary Hooper, it just ain't gonna happen. Speaking of which, where is Sahal Abdul Samad?
Coaching the 'uncoached'
After NorthEast United FC beat SC East Bengal on Saturday, Robbie Fowler bemoaned his players' "school boy errors," and their "lack of understanding of the fundamentals of the game," which included among other things, "knowing when to go in for the tackle and when to stand off and hold position." This, of course, followed the rather blunt "some Indian players look like they haven't been coached" statement after their defeat against Mumbai City.
He would also rail against the refereeing, calling out "two blatant penalties" that weren't given and later suggested ISL could do with VAR. Even though he himself admitted he was "not a huge fan of VAR."
Now, yes, one of those incidents was a stonewall penalty (the other was merely debatable), but does that excuse the fact East Bengal are creating so few chances in the first place? Or that they are taking none of them? After three games, they are yet to score or register a point, and apart from the odd promising moment don't seem to have a coherent gameplan. Fowler will need to get his coaching game on point to salvage the season. Soon.
Lobera is back
Mumbai City FC started with the sort of scrappy 1-0s (a loss, and a win) that could have derailed a big project before it even got off the ground. They are one of the biggest projects this league has seen yet -- what else do you call it when you can afford to bench Adam Le Fondre because Bartholomew Ogbeche can come on in his stead? -- and Sergio Lobera needed to get it right fast.
He seems to have done just that.
Ahmed Jahouh is back to doing what Ahmed Jahouh does -- whatever the hell he wants, better than anyone else on the pitch. Rowllin Borges beside him has been excellent. Hugo Boumous has been even better, creating chances almost every time he's on the ball. Le Fondre has been scoring, and on Sunday, Ogbeche opened his account. Everyone else around them is looking sharp.
The Bengaluru midfield clicks, kind of
The re-introduction of Dimas Delgado to the starting XI against Chennaiyin gave Bengaluru FC an impetus they seemed to have been missing. With Erik Paartalu guarding the way to that still-brilliant defence like an Australian Heimdall, and Suresh Singh Wangjam showcasing his superb all-action qualities, the addition of Dimas' ability to pick a pass means they are no longer terrified of keeping the ball on the ground.
They still look rusty, and Sunil Chhetri needs to be spending a lot more time closer to the opposition goal -- with the ball at his feet -- but there are at least signs that Carles Cuadrat is trying to shake his team out of the stupor of the early season (and most of last season). Now, it's time for them to kick on.
Goa's attack clicks, period
Angulo is scoring goals for fun. Brandon Fernandes' passes are scything through defences with ease. Jorge Ortiz is scaring defenders every time he starts running with the ball. Edu Bedia is controlling games as that deep-lying playmaker.
Juan Ferrando had looked like a man with a plan, but his new-look Goa team just seemed to be missing something. Against the very generous Kerala Blasters, it clicked.
Yes, they were a little shaky at the back towards the end, but this is Goa, and we can forgive that when the attack purrs as smoothly as it did on Sunday. They looked capable of scoring every time they moved forward, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves on the ball. With team chemistry improving with every passing game, we just might have a serious team on our hands.
Underdogs no more?
Everyone knows by now what you'll get with Gerard Nus Casanova's side -- sit deep, defend hard, break with purpose. Doing something about it, though, is a different matter. With his players -- especially the young Indians coming into the ISL from the I-League -- fighting for every inch and not backing down against supposedly superior opponents, NorthEast United look a hard team to beat. This is a team where manager and players all seem to be pulling in the same direction.
They have eight points in four games, and sit pretty at third in the table. That's no accident. Maybe it's time we stopped thinking of them as the underdogs?
Who can beat Habas?
ATK Mohun Bagan rock up to the ground. Sandesh Jhingan boots a few balls and a few players into the air. Roy Krishna scores. Everybody goes home. As we observed last week, winning this season's league may just boil down to 'who can beat Habas'.