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ISL musings: Hyderabad genuine title contenders and ATK Mohun Bagan continue to perplex

Bartholomew Ogbeche of Hyderabad FC celebrates after scoring a goal against Odisha FC. Vipin Pawar/Focus Sports/ ISL

A new year, same old ISL... which is good, considering the absolute goal-fest that awaits us every day at 7:30 pm. Twenty seven goals were scored in six games this past week, and here's what we learned from it.

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Hyderabad FC are genuine title contenders

Manolo Marquez's trust in young Indian players quickly made Hyderabad FC the neutral's favourite last season, but there always was a nagging feeling that his side lacked... something. That something might just be Bart Ogbeche. Hyderabad struggled to gel with Ogbeche's style of leading the line in their opening game, losing 0-1 to Chennaiyin, but ever since then, the club have strung together a run of seven games without defeat, including four very emphatic wins.

None more so than the 6-1 dismantling of Odisha FC, who, as their 4-2 win over league leaders Mumbai City FC last night proved, are no mean mugs themselves. Ogbeche's ability to score against the run of play was instrumental once again as Hyderabad survived a nervy opening half against Odisha, but they absolutely dominated the second half, with the goals coming from all over.

Yet, before we prematurely crown another champion once more, it's interesting to note that both Ogbeche and Hyderabad are massively over-performing their xG - the club have scored 18 goals from an xG of 8.9 - a regression to the mean is sure to come. However, there still is an understated efficiency about Marquez's side, who can go top of the league if they win their game in hand... against ATK Mohun Bagan.

Juan Ferrando's ATK Mohun Bagan remain a mystery

We've seen 180 minutes of Juan Ferrando football from ATK Mohun Bagan, and it's hard to make sense of any of it. The eye-test would tell you that the Kolkata giants were comfortable for much of their game against FC Goa, leading 2-0 till the 81st minute while defending well. Yet, the stats show that Goa out-shot (14-7), out-created (11-7) and out-passed (374-312) their opponents.

The Indian Super League isn't short of paradoxes this season, but Ferrando will have been glad to walk away with a win after facing his previous club. The league's best-paid coach (reportedly) surely has a tough job on his hands, but he's one who demands perfection, noting after the game that Liston Colaco had plenty of areas where he could improve.

The same Liston Colaco who is the top-scoring Indian in the league and who had just rocketed one of the best goals of the season just an hour prior to Ferrando making his comments. Watch this space...

Golazo fest

You would think that Greg Stewart's thunderbastard of a free kick last week would have sewn up the Goal of the Season contest, but this season of the ISL just continues to deliver game after game, week after week.

A mere 72 hours after Stewart's goal went viral worldwide, Colaco unleased his own howitzer against Goa, with the ball reaching speeds of 181 kmph. It's a good job Dheeraj Singh didn't get a hand to it, that shot was basically a bullet, shaped like a football.

48 hours later, and Adrian Luna decided to get in on the party too. Given all the time in the world as he collected the ball in midfield, Luna had a look at the goalkeeper, had a look at the ball, and then launched a shot high up into the air. For a brief moment, one wondered why Luna was aiming for the moon, but the ball dipped wickedly right into the top corner at the very end.

One feels for Dheeraj Singh, at the receiving end of both goals that no goalkeeper on earth, or even the moon, would save.

The ISL wasn't done though, Edu Bedia's olimpico and Ahmed Jahouh's long-ranger against Odisha only served to underline the fantastic skill we're witnessing from the league's best this year - long may it continue.

Chennaiyin's results underline unpredictability of the league

A few days after this column pointed out Bozidar Bandovic's penchant for building teams with tight defences, Chennaiyin went and conceded seven goals in two games. Thanks ever so much, Mr. Bandovic. Bengaluru FC might take plenty of encouragement from a 4-2 win over Chennaiyin, but in truth, it was more a case of Bandovic's side being awful. Yes, Ariel Borysiuk's injury didn't help matters, but Chennaiyin's defence were dragged all over the pitch, and left huge gaps that allowed BFC to profit.

Yet, a mere three days later, Chennaiyin were brilliant defensively once more in a 1-0 win over Jamshedpur FC. Greg Stewart was kept quiet, and having poached Nerijus Valskis from JFC a day earlier, Chennaiyin were left untroubled by Owen Coyle's men. A large part of the reason CFC exerted such a vice-like grip over the game was a stellar debut from Mohammad Sajid Dhot, who seemed possessed by the Croatian-dwelling spirit of Sandesh Jhingan, as he launched into blocks and clearances.

Lukasz Gikiewicz finally got on the scoresheet to add to Chennaiyin's glee, but in a league where first and seventh are separated by just three points, gloom is just around the corner.

How do you solve a problem like Mumbai?

Mumbai City FC conceded seven goals from five to start their campaign, and even when they looked far and away the best team, critics put the spotlight on their defence. Well, that defence has conceded ten in their last three, with coach Des Buckingham continuing to prioritize an attack-first approach. It's not helping that many of his best defenders are committing individual errors.

Mourtada Fall, so often an absolute rock in defence, gave the ball away cheaply for the opening goal against Odisha, before being twisted and turned into new realms of existence by Aridai. Mandar Rao Desai came on to contain a rampaging Jerry, but frequently left the winger in space, who went on to score two and assist one as Odisha staged a comeback after being 2-1 down in the first half.

Given their budget and status as defending champions, Mumbai City FC naturally have designs on the title, but Buckingham might have to opt for a more pragmatic approach if they are to remain at the top. However, he seems to be someone who sticks to his philosophies and principles, so Mumbai are unlikely to transform into a defensive side anytime soon. Given the way this ISL season has panned out though, even that may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. A new year, same old ISL.

Superb.