The Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 table is nicely taking shape a month and a half down the line since kicking-off in November last year.
While a few teams have really shone in the 2017 leg of the league, for some the New Year could not come any faster. With a much clearer picture of where teams stand now available, we take a look at what the 10 teams in the fray will be wishing for as we enter 2018.
NORTHEAST UNITED FC
NorthEast United FC picked up four points in their first three games of the season. That was as good as it gets for the Highlanders who have since slumped to four defeats on the bounce. Lying second from bottom in the table currently, the John Abraham-owned outfit have troubles at many areas on the pitch, none so greater than their lack of goals.
They have scored only two goals in the campaign so far, both of them coming in their sole win against bottom-placed Delhi Dynamos FC. Their Brazilian striker Danilo Lopes Cezario has been on target only once this season. Therefore, it does not take a crystal ball to figure out that the North-East outfit desperately needs goals and maybe a new striker in 2018.
The Gaurs have played some scintillating football in the league so far. Sergio Lobera’s men have been a joy to watch in attack where they have pumped in 19 goals, the highest so far in the league. Currently three points behind the leaders with a game in hand, FC Goa look to be in a strong position to mount a title challenge this season.
Their problems though lie at the back where they have conceded 13 goals already in their seven fixtures. They have failed to keep a clean-sheet in all their games and their recent defeat to FC Pune City shows they have a lot of work to do with their defence. Hence, a tighter back-line will be high on the agenda for Lobera and his men in 2018.
Currently at the top of the table, John Gregory’s men have been one of the most consistent outfits this season. The Englishman seems to have the Chennai-based outfit punching above its weight after their loss to FC Goa in their first game.
Having racked up five victories already, there is little that the Marina Machans are really lacking. However, if there is one thing Gregory would want to put the cherry on the cake is a tall physical striker to play as a target man. Jeje Lalpekhua has led the line for Chennaiyin but his hold up play at times leaves a lot to be desired despite scoring goals. Neither he nor Jude Nworuh are the tallest of strikers while Mohammed Rafi has disappointed aerially when called upon.
An old-school target man to get on the end of crosses and hold the ball up is what Chennaiyin should be wishing for in 2018.
KERALA BLASTERS FC
Having just parted company with head coach Rene Meulensteen, it is safe to say things have not been going according to plan for the Kochi-based side. Languishing in the eighth spot currently on the table, draws have been the bane for the Kerala side.
A lack of creativity is apparent in the side. So much so, that the former Manchester United man Dimitar Berbatov has been moved to midfield to provide a creative spark. After drawing the first three games, things have gone further downhill for the Blasters.
What they desperately need is a creative outlet in the centre of the park who can provide a better supply to Mark Sifneos and Hume.
MUMBAI CITY FC
After starting the season somewhat gingerly with two defeats in their opening four matches, Alexandre Guimaraes have turned it around, picking up three victories in their last four games.
While on paper things look sound for the Mumbai outfit, full-backs remain a cause for worry. With two youngsters in Davinder Singh and Abinash Ruidas, aged 22 and 23 respectively, they have been found wanting in the full-back position. Davinder’s penchant for picking up bookings has forced Guimaraes to field Mehrajuddin Wadoo or Raju Gaikwad who are well past his sell on date.
Ruidas has shown signs of improvement on the left flank but the right-side remains a weak-spot for Mumbai. Therefore, no prizes for guessing what Guimaraes and his men will be wishing for in 2018.
FC PUNE CITY
Ranko Popovic has done a remarkable job at Pune with the side sitting at the lofty second-spot in the table. Their campaign started on a dour note with a home defeat to Delhi Dynamos but since then Popovic has transformed them into a resilient side who are capable of beating any team on their day.
For 2018 though, the Serbian will be wishing for better full-backs. Baljit Sahni and Lalchhuanmawia Fanai have failed to really set the standards on either side of the defence. While they haven’t really shone on the defensive side so far, their attacking output has been next to nil.
Like their Maharashtra rivals Mumbai City, the Pune side will point to the full-backs as their soft underbelly so far this season. However, Pune also do not have depth in attack in the absence of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro.
Albert Roca’s men started their maiden campaign in the ISL on fire with four victories in their first five games but have lately come unstuck. Still, in a strong position in the league at the third spot, the Bengaluru-based outfit has found it difficult to create from the middle of the park. Star striker Miku has often had to resort to creating his own chances as teams have resorted to man-marking Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh.
Erik Paartalu and Dimas Delgado bring a lot of bite in midfield but have failed to really provide the supply their front-line desires. Meanwhile, Lenny Rodrigues has not featured for the side in recent times after being a permanent fixture in their last I-League campaign. They also do not have enough options in midfield, where the Indian options are sub-standard. Bengaluru also have concerns in the left-back department where neither Subhasish Bose nor Nishu Kumar have impressed.
What Roca will want for 2018 is a more refined midfield capable of giving its array of attacking stars the supply line they deserve.
DELHI DYNAMOS FC
The capital-based side have struggled badly this season and have lost six straight games, which tells you all you need to know about them.
Miguel Angel Portugal does not have the luxury of picking one particular area to strengthen given that his team has been misfiring on all fronts. Kalu Uche has disappointed in the striker’s position but Portugal does not really have any alternative. Winger Guyon Fernandez has been converted into a striker but that has not helped either.
Having conceded 19 goals already, Dynamos have the worst defence bar none. They have been dealt a blow in the goalkeeping department with a serious injury to Albino Gomes which has exposed their dismal alternatives. Lallianzuala Chhangte, Seityasen Singh and Romeo Fernandes have all blown hot and cold in the wings, mostly cold though.
Shoddy recruitment means the Dynamos need almost an entire new squad come 2018. Things could get ugly here if results don’t improve in the new year.
The reigning champions seem to have been hit by an injury curse which had threatened to derail their season.
They have had to do without the services of star man Robbie Keane until recently. Another overseas signing in Carl Baker ended in disappointment after the Englishman was ruled out for the entire season and had to be replaced. Jayesh Rane, Ashutosh Mehta, Anwar Ali and Nallapan Mohanraj have all spent more time on the treatment table rather than on the pitch of play, giving Teddy Sheringham more headaches.
Striker Robin Singh has joined the injured party too of late. Eugeneson Lyngdoh has also been ruled out for the season. With so many injuries with just over a month of football played, Sheringham will be hoping 2018 brings about a change in fortune when it comes to the fitness department and availability of key personnel.
The other new entrants in the league, Steve Coppell’s Jamshedpur FC have been hard to break down defensively. Despite only scoring just two goals so far like NorthEast United, Coppell’s men have managed to eke out two victories from those. Their strength lies in their defensive organisation having conceded just two goals so far in seven games.
The Englishman will be wishing for more from his attackers but what he will most desperately want is a playable pitch at their JRD Tata Sports Complex home-ground. The playing surface has come in for some criticism from visiting managers as well as Coppell but has shown no signs of improvement.
If the owners really want to give Jamshedpur a nice 2018 present, they would be well advised to spruce up the pitch.