Mumbai, March 19: The fifth season of Hero Indian Super League (ISL) is over and here is a lookback at how each team fared in the league. Bengaluru FC were deserving champions but shockingly defending champions Chennaiyin FC finished at the bottom.
Bengaluru FC: Champion Stuff
Having replaced Albert Roca at the helm, the primary objective for Carles Cuadrat was to better last season's feat and win the elusive Hero ISL title. Cuadrat tweaked what was already an eye-pleasing style of play to incorporate and build a much more pragmatic aspect on the field.
Teamwork, fighting spirit and talent worked arm in arm at Bengaluru as the well-oiled Blues became champions by defeating FC Goa in the Hero ISL grand finale.
FC Goa: Impressive entertainers
Goan teams have always made name for themselves in Indian football but FC Goa, in two seasons, has marked their territory in style. Sergio Lobera retained most of his squad from last season and entrusted with them the Spanish philosophy of football.
A leaky defence was the only stumbling block pulling Goa back and it was sorted when Lobera paired Mourtada Fall with Carlos Pena at right-back. Brave decisions like fielding Mandar Rao Dessai as a left-back and using Hugo Boumous effectively from the bench worked wonders for the Spaniard. The Gaurs may have faltered at the final hurdle but it was a season to remember.
Mumbai City FC: A well-oiled machine
The impact of the foreign contingent made a huge difference in Mumbai City's journey to the playoffs. After a sluggish start, the players stepped up to the plate and delivered. A damning 5-1 defeat in the first leg to FC Goa crashed the Islanders' dreams, but if they can retain the core of their squad, the future is bright.
NorthEast United: Almost a Ferrari
Eelco Schattorie's NorthEast United struggled with injuries and suspensions throughout the season, especially in defence. However, a combination of team spirit and man management squeezed the last life out of a fatigued squad as the Highlanders made it to their first ever playoffs.
Injuries to Mislav Komorski, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Rowllin Borges and Federico Gallego at crucial junctures is the only thing that pulled a spirited NorthEast back. With a summer to expand his squad, NorthEast United had a positive season and can dream to achieve better.
Jamshedpur FC: Not bad, but not good enough
An abnormally high number of stalemates turned a promising start into a disappointing season for Jamshedpur as they missed out on a spot in the playoffs. They did, however, remain in the race for top four until the very end and were a squad full of talent.
Michael Soosairaj and Tiri performed well, with the former excelling in his debut season in the ISL. Tim Cahill and Sergio Cidoncha's campaigns were disrupted due to injuries but Mario Arques and Memo formed a formidable partnership in midfield. The Men of Steel will feel disappointed to miss out on the playoffs.
ATK: Failed to live up to the hype
ATK's squad was filled with stars and the players on their bench for most games were footballers who would have been first team names at any other club in the ISL. But the Kolkata-based team's woes with injuries continued from last season and this time around, it was a goalscorer that they badly needed.
Steve Coppell's side was adept at the back as usual, with Andre Bikey and John Johnson doing a good job in maintaining the coach's reputation. However, injuries to key forwards, Emiliano Alfaro and Kalu Uche meant the coach had to alter his plans. Edu Garcia and Manuel Lanzarote weren't consistent enough but the rise of two promising talents, Komal Thatal and Ankit Mukherjee, is a positive.
FC Pune City: Failed to recover in time
After a managerial change early in the campaign after three matches, Pune struggled to pick up wins and gain momentum to truly get their season up and running. Interim coach Pradhyum Reddy did well to steady the ship until midway before Phil Brown took over and helped the Stallions cross the finish line.
Pune lost only one of their last eight fixtures and showed that they have the team to fight for the playoffs, something that they will be looking to do next season.
Delhi Dynamos: Young, energetic falter but show promise
Delhi was slow to start off their season, with the players taking their time to adapt to the newly appointed Josep Gombau's football philosophy. By the time they fully learnt his methods, the team had fallen behind in the standings.
However, the Lions, who fielded a young squad, showed plenty of promise and brimmed with energy when they performed to their full potential and played some of the best football in the league in the second half of the season.
Gombau looks to have built a stable core of players at Delhi, with Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nandakumar Sekar, Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Vinit Rai some of the young gems waiting to fulfill their potential in the upcoming season. Dynamos are well and truly a project for the future.
Kerala Blasters: Back-to-back heartbreaks
Kerala Blasters started the season with renewed hope after missing out on the playoffs in the previous year. But after an opening day win against ATK, results went downhill and the team went on a winless run of 14 matches, effectively ending any hope of a top-four finish and picking up just two wins along the way.
Lack of goals and a creative player to pick out a pass hurt Blasters' chances this season as they finished a lowly ninth. Their brightest spark was Sahal Abdul Samad whose consistent excellence in a flailing midfield earned him the Hero ISL Emerging Player of the Season award.
Chennaiyin FC: Champs to dumps
Chennaiyin FC's title defence got off to a poor start and John Gregory's team never recovered. The Marina Machans won just two matches, one came after six matches and that other came with three games left in the season.
There was no flow to Chennaiyin's attacks and the title-winners looked like a totally different set of players on the field. Henrique Sereno's departure and Dhanpal Ganesh's injury further affected Chennaiyin's performances as Gregory struggled to come up with a solution. While the defence was lacklustre, lack of goals from Jeje Lalpekhlua and co. rendered Chennaiyin's game ineffective.
Source: ISL Media