Week four of the Indian Super League sees Hyderabad FC remain top of the table while NorthEast United are rooted to the bottom without a single point. Here's what we made of the latest round of fixtures.
The Jahouh-Stewart cheat code
If you've ever played football - at any level - you've seen this happen. When your team isn't doing all that well, your two best players wordlessly decide to just play it between themselves... 1-2s, flicks-and-tricks, a dribble here, a nutmeg there, and suddenly nothing's the same. Against Chennaiyin, Mumbai City were 2-0 down in half-an-hour, their defensive flaws brutally exposed. Then Greg Stewart and Ahmed Jahouh decided to take over.
What followed in the next hour or so was an exhibition of midfield mastery: Jahouh, lying deep pulling strings. Stewart, further up the field, ripping through Chennaiyin like they weren't even there. They willed it, the ball did it. The two best players on the pitch had decided the match was theirs and so it became. By the time Jahouh was subbed off in the 68th minute, Mumbai had taken a 5-2 lead. As complete a comeback as you'll ever see - all orchestrated by that cheat code of a midfield.
They'd end the game at 6-2, a scoreline that underlined just how overwhelmingly favoured they are to top the league. For Thomas Brdaric and co, meanwhile, it's now just a matter of forgetting this as a blip. They've been far better this season than they have the last, and this heavy defeat shouldn't sidetrack from that.
Bengaluru are stuck in a rut
1. Sunil Chhetri drives at goal, past one defender, and then another and prepares to shoot.
2. Roy Krishna is put through on goal, the run timed exquisitely, no marker in sight, just him and the goalie.
Describe these two scenarios to your average Indian football fan and ask them what happened next and you'd hear just one word: "Goal". It's what these two have been doing for years now, after all. And yet... the first instance saw Chhetri hesitate and his shot blocked, the second saw Krishna flail one wildly off target. For this iteration of Bengaluru FC, that's been the way of things. Nothing is as it should be, as it always has been.
They've been outplayed in each of the first five matches of this campaign (they were arguably lucky to get that sole win), the few chances they create are being snatched at, and the vibe on the pitch is surprisingly uninspirational. They desperately need something to go their way - as coach Simon Grayson said ahead of the East Bengal loss, maybe a 30-foot smash that deflects in off someone's backside. For now, though, it looks like they're stuck in a rut. It remains to be seen what, or who, can pull them out of it.
On the other hand, East Bengal were excellent value for their three points. They controlled possession, created clear chances and converted the clearest of them all. Stephen Constantine has a good squad on his hands here, and improving on their current position (#8 on the table) is a very real possibility. Most importantly, though, they look competitive - and as the tears from the away fans at the Kanteerava showed - that's what matters most.
1-0 to the Hyderabad
A 1-0 win to Hyderabad FC. x4 now. Gameweeks come, gameweeks go and Hyderabad keep winning 1-0, the latest against Jamshedpur. Not once in those four games did the result ever look in doubt.
A run of 1-0s might be worrying for some teams, but not for this one - Manolo Marquez's men have dominated games to a degree that a 1-0 win just seems a casual byproduct of their performance. The goals, unlike last season, have come from across the board - Bart Ogbeche, Mohammad Yasir, Joao Victor and Hallicharan Narzary with two and with his goal against Jamshedpur, Javier Siverio with one. All this points to a steady team being handled with expert ease and a group that believes in each other. This is a team that's slowly building up momentum and is already looking pretty unstoppable. Watch out, everyone else.
Jamshedpur FC, meanwhile, continue to remain anonymous - a far cry from Owen Coyle's entertainers of last season.
ATK Mohun Bagan just find a way to win
After the helter-skelter chaos of Bagan-Mumbai, both the sides were due a bit of a low. Mumbai's lasted thirty minutes but Bagan's was more drawn out. Against a pretty down-on-their-luck NorthEast United, they dominated play without doing much to trouble Mirshad Michu. When NorthEast equalised in the 82nd minute, you could see criticism against Bagan loading - all those chances created, none taken, how inefficient!
But then in the 89th minute, up stepped Subashish Bose. When your left back is popping up with clutch winners in the last minute of regulation time, you know a title challenge is loading. Juan Ferrando is still working with this squad, but you can see the improvements in real-time.
P.S. Oh, NorthEast United. Still the only side in the league to not have a single point. Six games, six losses, a GD of -11 and the kind of luck that sees this (see above) happen even when they play half-decently.
Vukomanovic adapts, Blasters thrive
Ivan Vukomanovic has always insisted that formations and tactics are a mere means to the end, to be changed at will if it's not working. With his heady high-pressing 4-2-2-2 leaving way too many gaps in behind this season, he had needed to change, (especially against a side that thrives on space in midfield), and so he did. The 4-2-2-2 remained, albeit morphing into the traditional 4-4-2 more times than usual. The high press, though, was ditched. Adrian Luna and Dimi Diamantakos dropped to the halfway line when out of possession, compressing midfield and denying Goa's playmakers any space. With pressing triggers used far more selectively, they chose their moments to put Goa's all-Indian backline under pressure and chose it well. The first two goals came from a combination of slapstick defending and calculated pressing while the third was just Ivan Kaliuzhnyi deciding he'd had enough of all this mucking about.
Rahul KP, meanwhile, kept the entertainment at the outrageous levels Vukomanovic demands, skinning his marker(s) every time he got the ball out wide, creating chaos with his magic and (importantly from a results point-of-view) his decision-making. Football's meant to be fun, few people make it more fun than Rahul.
Goa, though, shouldn't be disheartened by the loss. The defence could use some tightening (and a bit of wisening up when under the pump), but with Alvaro Vazquez getting more gametime under his belt, their attack will not be easy to contain.
World Cup? What World Cup?
The football world might have collectively ceased functioning as all eyes get trained on Qatar, but the ISL will plough on through.
If (for this reason) you do miss a game or two here, don't worry, this column's got you covered.