With every team in the Indian Super League completing 10 games so far this season (barring ATK Mohun Bagan and Odisha FC after their postponed game), we’ve arrived at the halfway point of the 2021-22 season.
It’s been a wildly unpredictable year, which has already seen managerial departures for Antonio Habas and Manolo Diaz, with Juan Ferrando also generating headlines by leaving FC Goa for Bagan. Defending champions Mumbai City seemed to be walking away with the league, only for a run of winless games to undermine their campaign. Kerala Blasters lead the table at the halfway point, which not many would have predicted at the start of the season.
After seven weeks of non-stop action, we take a breather to assess each team, look at what makes them tick (or doesn’t), and grade them (A+ being highest, F being lowest).
Biggest strength: A lethal frontline. A miserly defence. Is this the year?
Biggest weakness: xG isn’t the best (ninth).
Best player: Adrian Luna. The most creative player in the league, 7 big chances creates, with 4 assists. Likes the odd screamer, too.
Watchability: 9/10 – The Blasters have come a long way from the mess last season. Alvaro Vazquez, Jorge Diaz and Sahal Abdul Samad weave some pretty patterns while also scoring some belters – and then you have Luna to top it all off.
What they must improve: Turn their draws (5 in 10!) into wins. Do that, and they might actually win the league.
Biggest strength: When the attack clicks, they’re unstoppable.
Biggest weakness: Defence has been porous right from the start.
Best player: Ahmed Jahouh. Igor Angulo and Cassio come a close second, but Jahouh is still the fulcrum upon which this team flourishes, as his league-leading 6 assists testify. When he has a bad game, so do Mumbai.
Watchability: 9.5/10 – When Mumbai are good, the goals flow. When Mumbai are bad… the goals flow. 39 goals have occurred in the 10 games they’ve played, second only to Odisha’s 40.
What they must improve: That defence. Rahul Bheke, Mourtada Fall and Mandar Rao Desai, who are normally rock-solid, appear to have caught the yips. Des Buckingham has quite the job on his hands if Mumbai are to retain the title.
Biggest strength: Defence. Along with Kerala Blasters, have conceded the least number of goals this season.
Biggest weakness: Their tackling – Hyderabad gave given away the league’s second highest number of fouls (159) and earned a whopping 20 yellow cards in the process.
Best player: Bart Ogbeche. Leads the golden boot race with 9 goals, although much of it has been because of the supporting cast of Edu Garcia, Aniket Jadhav and Nikhil Poojari.
Watchability: 8/10 – Manolo Marquez has fashioned a side that attacks with pace down the wings and defends well. It’s a good, dependable recipe.
What they must improve: xG. Hyderabad are massively outperforming their expected goals (20 goals from an xG of 12). They’re also ninth in the league table for big chances created.
Biggest strength: Direct, fast attacking play, with a healthy dose of dribbling involved.
Biggest weakness: Can be stifled easily, especially now that Nerijus Valskis’ departure has left them with a goal-scoring problem.
Best player: Greg Stewart. The most exciting player to watch in the league. He can dribble past most defences and his free-kicks are well, delicious.
Watchability: 10/10 – Stewart dribbles, Alex Lima dribbles, Komal Thatal dribbles, Boris Singh dribbles. Yeah, they’re fun.
What they must improve: Jamshedpur need a plan B, especially when up against an organized low block.
Biggest strength: The depth of their attacking options – David Williams would walk into any other side in the league, but Roy Krishna, Hugo Boumous and Liston Colaco are hard to displace.
Biggest weakness: ATKMB have 1 clean sheet in 9 games. Sandesh Jhingan’s return will undoubtedly help, though.
Best player: Liston. Boumous and Krishna blew hot and cold, with Liston the one constant in every game. Juan Ferrando thinks he can improve, and that can only be a good thing.
Watchability: Varies from 4/10 to 10/10, let’s call it an even 7/10, yeah? Williams scored the ISL’s fastest goal with some lovely Ferrando-inspired teamwork, and if things fall into place we could witness a consistent 10/10 in the second half of the season.
What they must improve: Consistency. ATKMB can send their fans into ecstasy one moment and despair the next. The early impressions are that Ferrando may be able to wrest an even level of performance from his undoubtedly talented squad.
Biggest strength: The defence. Can suffocate even the best of attacks.
Biggest weakness: Scoring. 9 goals in 10 games in such a high-scoring league is a pitiful return.
Best player: Mirlan Murzaev and Anirudh Thapa have shined in the middle of the park, in equal measure.
Watchability: 3/10 – Bozidar Bandovic has made a habit of winning league titles with a mean defence. CFC’s utter disinterest in scoring though, make their games a terrible watch – unless you like watching two banks of four and five moving in defensive unison.
What they must improve: Creating chances. Rafael Crivellaro’s season-ending injury undoubtedly upset the apple-cart, but relying on Thapa to create seems misguided.
Biggest strength: Creating chances. Lead the league (14 big chances)
Biggest weakness: Scoring those chances. Lead the league (10 big chances missed). Also, league’s leakiest defence.
Best player: Javi Hernandez makes them tick, although Jerry is not a bad shout either.
Watchability: 9/10. They create a lot, score a fair bit and concede a ton. It’s no wonder that the games they play average out to four goals.
What they must improve: 22 goals conceded isn’t great, but that number is probably skewed after their 1-6 evisceration by Hyderabad. One could argue Odisha would be better served by focusing on their finishing, with Jonathas showing signs of form.
Biggest strength: Passing and possession. Sergio Lobera and Juan Ferrando may have gone, but their legacy remains
Biggest weakness: Also passing and possession. FC Goa have league-leading stats in both, but quite often do nothing with the ball.
Best player: Jorge Ortiz. Leads the side in both goals (4) and assists (3). Alberto Noguera comes a close second in influence.
Watchability: 5/10 – Xavi fanboys will probably love all the sterile passing, but it does get boring after a while.
What they must improve: The output from their Indian players – Goa have some of the best young Indian talent out there but have been unable to prise the best out of them.
Biggest strength: They keep the ball well… and that’s about it.
Biggest weakness: Luck. BFC have an xGC (expected goals conceded) of 8.8 – the second best in the league – and have conceded 18.
Best player: Cleiton Silva. Leads the team in every attacking metric, including goals (5) and assists (3).
Watchability: 4/10 – Cleiton’s a fun watch, but those around him are not. An extra point deducted because watching Sunil Chhetri’s decline is just painful.
What they must improve: There isn’t much Marco Pezzaiouli can do, given his resources. BFC can only improve if they revamp their squad, which seems unlikely at the moment.
Biggest strength: Their midfield. Second in the league when it comes to intercepting the ball.
Biggest weakness: The worst defence in the league, statistically, is a Khalid Jamil team. Don’t get to say that very often.
Best player: VP Suhair. Deshorn Brown may lead the team in numbers, but he’s gone missing plenty of times. Suhair’s industry and penchant for a goal are far easier to rely upon.
Watchability: 7/10 – Brown’s exciting to watch when he’s in the mood, with Imran Khan also impressing. You can expect NEUFC to concede at any moment though, which lends an air of excitement to their games.
What they must improve: Defending. Jamil’s been unable to fashion an organized unit so far. Perhaps it’s time to trust his foreign contingent a bit more.
Biggest strength: You’re kidding, right?
Biggest weakness: Everything. Can’t score, can’t defend, can’t football.
Best player: Amir Dervisevic has been a lone shining beacon amidst the dross around him.
Watchability: 2/10 – It’s telling that Renedy Singh’s attempts to bring defensive solidity back to the team have been praised.
What they must improve: Everything. For now, what Renedy’s managed to do with the limited resources he has is impressive. It remains to be seen if Mario Rivera can bring the good times back, as he did in his previous stint at the club.