Exactly half-way through the Indian Super League season, Mumbai City reclaimed top spot this week, with Hyderabad FC two points behind, followed by ATK Mohun Bagan a further two points adrift as well. We reflect on the latest round of fixtures.
Will the ISL witness an Invincible season?
10 games in, Mumbai City's unbeaten run seems to show no signs of slowing down, as they put East Bengal to the sword in a 3-0 win that had their opponents chasing shadows. Understandably it was Greg Stewart's shadow that loomed largest, but Apuia's brace was the perfect microcosm of Mumbai's dominance.
One wouldn't expect the 22-year-old to be making clever, late runs into the box; nor the brilliantly composed finishes that followed. It's the composure and certainty of champions that leaves defenders with twisted ankles, sat on their rears, unable to stop this juggernaut of a side. Des Buckingham has quality in every position, made ever more menacing by his ability to bring on two of India's best young forwards as well as a certain Alberto Noguera.
Not a single one of their seven wins this season was a narrow affair, with a minimum of a two-goal difference. Their draws have come against their title challengers, Hyderabad FC and ATK Mohun Bagan... and incredibly, Jamshedpur FC. Buckingham will obviously have his eye on the title race, but there's a shot at making history with an unbeaten season. However, with his focus on attacking football in every game, there's every chance that a loss is possible.
Were Mumbai to pull off an invincible season, odds are it'd be one of the more entertaining ones.
Thomas Brdaric was right to bench Nasser El Khayati
There were plenty of questions after Chennaiyin's 1-1 draw with Kerala Blasters, none more so than Thomas Brdaric's decision to leave Nasser El Khayati on the bench. With a league-topping 11 goal contributions this season, scores of Chennaiyin fans were left apoplectic at his relegation to the bench, especially after being involved in five goals against NorthEast United in the previous game.
Yet, upon deeper observation, Brdaric was justified in his decision. Kerala Blasters are a side in incredible form, coming into this game on a run of five consecutive wins, with a front five that press incessantly. El Khayati would have found space hard to come by had he started, and with questions over his fitness, it was perhaps more prudent to keep him as an option to bring on. It did turn out that way, but in truth El Khayati did little in his 20-minute cameo. There was one glorious bit of quick feet and a pass, but he ended the game with a pass accuracy of 50%.
In fact, Rahim Ali proved to be the difference for Chennaiyin after they were trailing to Sahal Samad's cleverly taken opener. Brdaric has overseen a bit of a mixed season for the former champions, but there are signs of promise - all he needs is a bit of time.
Goalless, luckless Odisha
The first goalless draw of the ISL season came in Odisha's encounter against ATK Mohun Bagan, but as an xG score of 1.24 - 0.31 showed, it wasn't exactly an evenly fought affair. The hosts had the upper hand over ATKMB for most of the game, and ought to have won this game, especially after Osama Malik spurned a gilt-edged chance late on to win the game.
Luck was also not with Gombau's side, who saw a stonewall penalty appeal turned down, with Dimi Petratos fortunate to get away with a clear handball in the box. Both sides are in the title race, and with a gap of just six points separating first from sixth, things can swing quickly either way. Luck may play a deciding role in the fortunes of both these teams and Odisha will be hoping they'll be due some towards the end of the season.
Were Jamshedpur bad or Bengaluru good?
Bengaluru FC returned to winning ways after defeating Jamshedpur FC 1-0 at the Kanteerava, with arguably their best performance of the season. Yet, that's a decidedly low bar under Simon Grayson and with an eight-point gap to sixth-placed FC Goa, it's perhaps too little, too late. For once, Roy Krishna and Sunil Chhetri were on a similar wavelength, with Javi Hernandez and Danish Farooq also in the mix.
However, the performance also must be viewed from the lens of Jamshedpur's defence - which is one of the worst in the league. BFC were offered acres of space to work with, and Peter Hartley's absence did not help matters (not that Aidy Boothroyd's side have been better off with him anyway).
It's a pity that two former league champions have been reduced to an afterthought just 10 games in, but that's where both clubs are - in desperate need of a rethink.
Vincenzo Annese's tough start to his ISL career
FC Goa's 2-1 win over NorthEast United was probably the most comfortable 2-1 win in the history of 2-1 wins. The hosts raced to a 2-0 lead inside twenty minutes at the Fatorda and could have easily doubled that scoreline before Wilmar Jordan scored a late consolation from the spot. Vincenzo Annese has been in charge of 180 minutes of football where his side have easily been second-best.
It's a novel scenario for a man used to dominating teams with Gokulam Kerala and perhaps it's his inexperience in fashioning tactics for the underdog that's undermining his efforts so far. Even his famous win over ATK Mohun Bagan had Gokulam playing like the protagonist - sadly, NEUFC don't have the same riches on the pitch and perhaps a more pragmatic approach might be useful as he looks to avoid having his name attached to possibly the worst points finish in Indian top-flight history.