Another week, another manager sacked, another Mumbai City win and plenty of movement in the top half of the Indian Super League table. Here's the pick of the action from the past week in ISL 2020-21.
Mumbai City show their best and not-so-best
On Monday, against ATK Mohun Bagan, Mumbai City FC were excellent. Their forwards ran intelligently -- not only did they keep ATKMB pegged in (which is not all that special, since you could argue that is ATKMB's default state) but they also pulled their defence apart, moving them into zones they didn't particularly want to occupy. Their midfield controlled the game with absurd ease and their defenders pushed up, pulling ATKMB's threat back along with them. Their 1-0 win was as comprehensive as a 1-0 scoreline could be.
On Saturday, against Hyderabad, Mumbai were a bit... meh. That they didn't lose is still a measure of their quality (and the importance of having a good, dependable goalkeeper), but they struggled all game with Hyderabad's direct running and incessant pressure. And with Hugo Boumous rested due to a slight injury, their play lacked the innovation required to break down a well-drilled defence.
They will, of course, have such off days but Sergio Lobera will want to eliminate them as much as possible before the chasing pack get their acts sorted
Surely, ATKMB have another gear?
ATKMB are a very efficient team. They are second in the league, have a decent buffer between them and the teams below and will feel confident that they can catch up with Mumbai if they move it up a gear or two. Can they, though?
They have scored 11 in 11 games and seem perfectly content with that tally. Only Chennaiyin FC have scored fewer, but that's not for a lack of trying, but because their forwards haven't been able to hit a barn door from a foot away.
There's little to complain about in terms of league position and results, but surely ATKMB have more to offer? Surely they'll need it if they are to challenge Mumbai for first place and the ACL group-stage spot that comes with it?
Oh, and then there's this:
51.6% - @atkmohunbaganfc had a passing accuracy of 51.6% against @FCGoaOfficial, their worst against a team in the @IndSuperLeague. 114 of their 221 passes were successful. Faulty. #FCGATKMB #LetsFootball #ISL pic.twitter.com/MpmIoCidFY
- OptaJeev (@OptaJeev) January 17, 2021
What is NorthEast United's philosophy?
"The club has decided to part ways with the Spanish national after taking into consideration the team's current tactics and the club's philosophy and vision." This was the statement NorthEast United FC put out after their rather surprising decision to sack coach Gerard Nus Casanova 11 matches into his reign.
It was surprising because Nus began the campaign quite well, and had a limited squad competing well against almost every team in the league, but what really stood out was the obvious crutch of a phrase, "philosophy and vision." The first question is what exactly is NorthEast's philosophy? Given they haven't had a consistent style of play or tactical approach in the seven years of their existence, it's hard to pinpoint. The second question is a bit rhetorical -- how can a club settle on a philosophy or playing style when you have nine managers (Nus being the ninth) in seven seasons, all of differing ideologies and tactical approaches?
There may have been behind-the-scenes reasons Nus lost his job -- say, player revolt or a fight with the company higher-ups -- but results really ought not to have been one, and 'philosophy' certainly not.
Khalid Jamil -- interim manager and a devotee of the same remain-compact, threaten-on-set-pieces-and-counter-attacks tactics of his predecessor -- started off with a win, but what he needs, what any manager needs, is a consistent run at the helm. So the big question remains -- is that part of NorthEast's vision moving forward?
East Bengal, Kerala take one step forward, one step back
The last time SC East Bengal played Kerala Blasters FC, the former dominated possession, created most of the chances, opened the scoring and ended up conceding a last-minute equaliser. On Friday, the reverse of that same scenario played out.
This is the ISL 2020-21 season for the two clubs in a two-game nutshell. They have been decent in passages, promising in others, and hopelessly inadequate in the majority. At times they can't hold on to leads, and at others they come back from behind with a verve that's inspiring. There is absolutely no consistency, and you're left wondering who of Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde will turn up on any given day for either team. This week, they both took a step forward, then took another back and are now just standing still, stranded at the bottom of the table.
Given the traditionally trigger-happy nature of club managements, and with all that's happening just above them on the table, these kind of performances and results will worry Messrs. Vicuna and Fowler.
Coyle needs to arrest worrying slide
Owen Coyle's Jamshedpur FC have been one of the more exciting teams this season. This past week and a bit, though, they went on a run of three straight losses that saw them slip from well inside the playoff places to eighth on the table. Considering how closely bunched everyone is below Mumbai, this won't overly worry Coyle. What will give him headaches, though, are the performances in those three matches. They aren't creating as many chances, they are squandering the few that they do and their defence looks increasingly vulnerable to the simple things -- people running at them and taking shots at goal. Everything looks threatening when done inside the Jamshedpur box.
Coyle never went through a blip like this during that remarkable half-season at Chennaiyin and given the start he had, he would be forgiven for not anticipating this. How he pulls his team out of this slide will be a stern test of his temperament and skill. Considering how much of a fighter he is, that should make for a fun watch.
Player of The Week - Isma
Esmael Goncalves, Isma, gets it for the simple act of preventing his coach, Csaba Laszlo, from spontaneously imploding due to the pent-up frustration of seeing his strikers miss everything. Isma scored a brace against Odisha FC -- a neat finish when one-on-one with the keeper, and a penalty -- to seal three points in a match that ended 2-1 and was punctuated by more misses from Chennaiyin players not named Isma.