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I-League 2018-19: Contrasting philosophies make title race more exciting

06:57 GMT+3 30/01/2019
Chennai City FC East Bengal I-League 2018-19 01142019
A four-horse championship race with each team subscribing to starkly different philosophies should make a riveting title race...

The I-League championship race is shaping up in exactly the same fashion in like it did in its previous edition. On March 8, 2018, three matches kicked-off at the same time as four teams were vying for silverware on the final day. And in the current campaign after matchday 14, the top four are just separated by two points.

Most of us would have ridiculed or laughed at a soothsayer if he had foretold before the start of the season that a Chennai City, who have struggled ever since coming into the I-League, would be on top, a relegated team at the second place and a league debutant at the third spot.

But I-League has been full of surprises every season for the past three years with the legacy clubs being constantly threatened by footballing minnows who function on shoe-string budgets.

The fact that each of the clubs has found a style native to them which suits their team combination has only added more flair and variety to the league, in turn making the title race more interesting.

Akbar Nawas might not like the typical British style of route one football that Kashmir have adopted but it has been reaping rewards for David Robertson. The Scottish coach does not have the quality that the likes of Nestor Gordillo or Pedro Manzi bring to Chennai and therefore, has opted for a style which would ruffle opponents and earn them points.

Real Kashmir are on a 10-match unbeaten run and their spotless away form coupled with their league double over leaders Chennai City have ensured that the top-tier debutants are within sniffing distance from pole position with 28 points from 14 matches.

Nawas has been following a philosophy close to the Spanish model as he has players at his disposal who are comfortable with the ball.

Meticulous planning, sticking to a gameplan through thick and thin coupled with brilliant individual performances from both the foreign contingent and local lads have seen them occupy the number one slot since matchday 1.

Similarly, Petre Gigiu and Alejandro Menendez have also shown the tactical flexibility and maturity to neither implement a particular school of footballing thought nor force one's ideas on the players.

East Bengal, on the other hand, are reliant on passing the ball at some instances to break down oppositions whereas on some occasions use Jobby Justin as a target-man to launch crosses or long balls.

Menendez has shown faith on the youngsters and Manoj Mohammad has flourished at the left back position. Similarly, Jobby Justin who was more remembered for his wastefulness is being hailed as a hero among the East Bengal faithful for his consistent performances this season under the guidance of the former Real Madrid Castilla coach.

Churchill has completely reinvented themselves under Gigiu. Willis Plaza who was a flop with East Bengal has been scoring for fun this season and Gigiu must be given his share of credit. His intelligent use of Dawda Ceesay has allowed more freedom to Plaza to express himself in the attacking third and the Trinidadian has found the net a staggering 15 times against seven different opponents.

The Romanian has been able to bring out the best from his players and having leaders in the form of Khalid Aucho and Nenad Novakovic in midfield and defence respectively have made Churchill a force to be reckoned with.

With most of the top four clubs yet to play against each other in the reverse fixture, we will witness a clash of contrasting footballing ideologies. And for a football fan, nothing can be more exciting.