Mumbai City FC retained their lead at the top of the Indian Super League standings in a week which had the title race come to the fore. Just six points separate first and fifth, with three of the chasing pack having a game in hand. We reflect on the latest round of fixtures.
Mumbai City's dominance takes new form
9 games, 27 goals, leading the scoring charts (Jorge Pereyra Diaz), leading the assists chart (Greg Stewart), leading the xG and passing charts and most importantly, leading the points table. That Des Buckingham's side are a great team was never in dispute, but the manner in which they dismissively swatted aside an FC Goa team ought to ring alarm bells for the rest of the league. Goa have flirted with inconsistent results this season, but the one constant, even in their three losses prior to this game was that they dominated possession.
After 90 minutes in the Mumbai Football Arena, the home crowd witnessed Mumbai rack up a 4-1 win with 55% possession, outpassing their opponents 331 - 244. None of Goa's opponents this season, barring Chennaiyin FC, have done so. Mumbai were incessant with their pressing, with two of their goals coming from turnovers in the final third. Even when Mumbai concede, there's an undercurrent... this is just a blip, and the goals will eventually come. Why wouldn't they when Greg Stewart continues to pull the strings and Diaz and Lallianzuala Chhangte feast on his offerings? Buckingham's side are arguably the best team to watch in this league, and if they keep this up for another 11 games, they will canter to the league title.
(P.S - Buckingham's future will continue to be up in the air until Melbourne City make a permanent appointment; after Rado Vidosic, the women's team coach, took charge on an interim basis)
Jamshedpur's problems go deeper than Stewart's departure
In his first eight games for Jamshedpur FC last season, Daniel Chima Chukwu managed to score seven goals. In their first eight games this season, Jamshedpur as a whole have managed to score six goals - the same number of losses they've suffered this season. It's quite the fall from grace for the league shield champions from last season, and no - it's not just because of the loss of Greg Stewart. A fair number of the side that featured in the 0-1 loss to Kerala Blasters are title winners. They don't suddenly become terrible players, and the answer for Jamshedpur's terrible form points right at the manager - Aidy Boothroyd.
Putting aside the recruitment gaffes - signing Harry Sawyer with Chukwu already present seems reduntant, and even in his best Arsenal youth seasons, Jay Emmanuel Thomas was hardly what you'd call a 'creator' -- Jamshedpur look bereft of ideas in the middle (although Vikash Singh had his moments).
While they still possess quality out wide - they've been bafflingly used all season. Ritwik Das, Boris Singh, Seimeinlen Doungel have fizzed in their crosses all season - aiming for a darting near post run - which seems to be by design, given the volume. It would be a fine tactic, except they have Chukwu and Sawyer up front: two of the tallest, strongest players in the league. What makes it all the more intriguing is that Jamshedpur lead the table in accurate crosses per 90. They are finding their man, but it's not leading to a shot on goal. Maybe float in a couple right into the mixer next time lads?
As for the league's best defence last season turning into the third-worst defence this year, with mostly the same personnel... who knows? Maybe Owen Coyle was a defensive savant and we just never knew it. Or maybe Boothroyd is just not the right man for the job - with JFC heading for their worst-ever finish.
Hyderabad bailed out by screamers
0.03 xG (Halicharan Narzary), 0.08 xG (Chinglensana Singh) and 0.03 xG (Borja Herrera)- the fact that Hyderabad FC scored three goals from those shots ought to really underline the quality of those goals... and that they're not firing on all cylinders yet. The scoreline may have been 3-1 in favour of Hyderabad against Chennaiyin, but it was mildly flattering to Manolo Marquez' side.
Nine of the thirteen Hyderabad goals this season have come in just three games, Halicharan and Mohammed Yasir are the most involved in goals, while Bart Ogbeche underperformed his xG once more (0.05 xGOT from 0.23 xG in this game). Hyderabad are finding the answers however, and in a 20-game season, cracks can be papered over. Their overall xG is still relatively high up (11.0, third) so once Ogbeche finds his scoring boots, we can expect some high-scoring games.
Or they can continue scoring goal-of-the-season contenders every game, who would complain? Keep rifling 'em in from distance.
Odisha and ATK Mohun Bagan keep up the pressure
Odisha have morphed from dark horses to er... title-chasing stallions? Josep Gombau's side had their customary blip allowing NorthEast to equalise and had their customary winner in the final 15 minutes to rack up another win. 'Never in doubt' and all that jazz. It also helps that NorthEast can have six defenders in the box marking three attackers and still allow a low cross across goal to be tapped in from a yard out.
ATK Mohun Bagan kept up the pressure on league-leaders Mumbai with another win, thanks to Dimi Petratos' long-range effort in a 1-0 win over Bengaluru FC. Sunil Chhetri's decline has even made itself apparent to his ardent supporters in the Kanteerava, but BFC offered little in this game, barring some desperate attempts late on. ATKMB weren't much better either, but Petratos continued his knack of scoring crucial goals. He now has the most goal-involvements in the league. He's exactly what's needed at the tip of Juan Ferrando's spear, and with Joni Kauko's scoring out of the equation, Petratos becomes ever-more important if the Kolkata giants are to mount a title-challenge.
Meanwhile, Kerala Blasters winning four in a row for the first time in their history is a fantastic achievement for Ivan Vukomanovic, and a damning assessment of what came before.