The fourth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) will see two new entrants take the fray in the form of Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC. With the total number of teams in the league now up to 10, the ISL looks more formidable than it has ever been in its short history.
Accompanying the increase in franchises is the widening of the league window to four months, a welcome change from the miniscule two-and-a-half-month windows used in the previous three editions.
While the first three editions of the league had 61 matches each, the upcoming season will see a huge jump in that aspect with 95 games spread out over five months.
With the change in the length of the league window coupled with the increase in the total number of fixtures, strategies which teams employed to ensure progression into the last four might just fall obsolete.
When ATK triumphed over Kerala Blasters at the Dr. DY Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai in the final of the inaugural edition, they had provided a fairy-tale finish to an otherwise unspectacular campaign.
The Kolkata outfit started the season in blistering fashion securing three wins and a draw in its opening four games. By matchday 4, the Antonio Lopez Habas led side had amassed 10 points out of a possible 12 to sit comfortably on top of the ISL table.
Their next win would come only after with three draws and a loss. The most astonishing fact which defined the campaign of Habas’ men is that they would not win another game until their 1-0 win in the summit clash.
With five wins out of a possible 17, the Kolkata outfit had been crowned champions of the maiden ISL edition. The fact that they were hard to beat with only three losses amidst a string of seven draws before the semi-final stage did help their cause in their title run.
ATK produced a repeat of their maiden triumph in the third edition of the league where once again, a total of four victories was enough to propel the side into the last four followed by their second title in three years.
The team would win only one more game in regulation time in the two-legged semi-finals and final, once again bringing their total tally to only five wins out of a possible 17.
To bring that into contrast, the table-toppers at the end of the league stage – Mumbai City FC, had six wins out of a possible 17. Once again it was Kolkata’s resolute defence which aided their run to the trophy with only two losses in the entire campaign.
With the extra matches and longer schedule, teams will perhaps not be afforded the luxury the two title-winning Kolkata sides enjoyed. The calculations and strategies employed by clubs will need to be reconfigured in their quest to make the last four.
The extra fixtures will bring with them a new set of permutations and combinations along with the need for new ploys in the wake of longer gaps between each matchday.
With six sides set to miss out on the semi-finals, teams will have to be on their toes for every win they can garner. While solid defences might still rule the roost when it comes to title-winning campaigns, two more teams in the fray means the possibility of falling behind in the league after a draw is greater.
The wave of changes in the ISL’s latest avatar means coaches and think-tanks will have to realign their methods in a far more competitive league than before while the old drawing boards might just need to go out of the window.