As the ball rolls at the Fatorda to kick-start the eighth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), the country gears up for an exciting, fresh and challenging campaign ahead. With new faces and a delicate balance of the young and the experienced, the 11 teams will battle it out with newly infused energy and vigour.
Defending champions Mumbai City look to hold on to the title for the first time in the history of the league, while the seasoned regulars look forward to keep the pressure up and perch themselves in the top half of the table, from the very early stages of the exigent league. t2 picks five teams that might prove to be tough to beat with their squad depth and balance.
ATK MOHUN BAGAN
Emotions run wild when it comes to Mohun Bagan fans in Bengal and across the country, as the winter months bring in a sense of continuity of watching their favourite team in action. After a brilliant previous season which saw them narrowly losing out on the ISL Premiership and the Championship, Antonio Lopes Habas’s men come in with renewed vitality and determination.
With the infusion of Finnish international Joni Kauko, record signing Hugo Boumous and goalie Amrinder Singh, the green and maroon legion looks to start off their campaign with convincing wins and execute Habas’s immensely tempered strategies flawlessly, from the very early stages. Outside the new signings, regulars Pritam Kotal, Lenny Rodriguez, Tiri along with talisman skipper Roy Krishna will be the central cogs in Habas’s system.
With the immortal insignia of the sailboat flying high, ATK Mohun Bagan are looking confident to dominate the proceedings this time and triumph over arch-rivals SC East Bengal, at the most awaited clash on November 27.
Captains: Roy Krishna, Pritam Kotal
Coach: Antonio Lopes Habas
Player to look out for: Hugo Boumous
SC EAST BENGAL
For the eternal rivals, the red-yellow brigade, after a forgettable last season, the new campaign fields a rehashed East Bengal side with a proper balance of the youth and the seasoned. Goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya, who won the Golden Glove and played for ATK Mohun Bagan last year, joined the rivals and has been named captain for the season. Following Liverpool veteran Robbie Fowler’s exit as head coach, the side underwent considerable changes with former Real Madrid Castilla manager Manolo Diaz taking up the reins of the team.
The club has brought in a fresh set of foreign players including striker Daniel Chima and Australian defender Tomislav Mrcela (vice-captain). Diaz seeks to blend his Spanish style of play with the East Bengal’s system with considerable experiences of Raju Gaikwad, Balwant Singh and Mohammad Rafique, and the finesse brought in by the new signings. For SC East Bengal, this edition comes with a point to prove, and keep the flaming torch perched high.
Captain: Arindam Bhattacharya
Coach: Manolo Diaz
Player to look out for: Daniel Chima Chukwu
NORTHEAST UNITED FC
For NorthEast United, Khalid Jamil is at the wheel. Following Jamil’s appointment during the previous edition of the ISL, the team went on an 11-match unbeaten run that saw them finish third. Jamil became the first ISL Indian coach at the helm of things.
Boasting of a deep roster, NEUFC seek to improve on the elegance of their style of play, balanced with aggression. New signing Patrick Flottman provides finesse to the defence quarters along with Camara and Santana handling the playmaking. Although missing last season’s star performer Ralte, actor John Abraham’s club will look to drill through the toughest of sides, like last year, steering away from the first-half blues of the previous season and seek their first trophy.
Captain: Subhashish Roy Chowdhury
Coach: Khalid Jamil
Player to look out for: Deshorn Brown
(L-R) Bruno Ramires, Deshorn Brown
MUMBAI CITY FC
Defending champions Mumbai City FC will not have it easy this season but that does not stop them from hustling to be the only team in the history of the tournament to be able to defend a title. Under new head coach, 36-year-old Des Buckingham, the team with an incredible fusion of individual styles, will look forward to maintain last edition’s mojo.
Missing their man under the crossbar, Amrinder Singh (moved to ATKMB), Mumbai will have to come out of Sergio Lobera’s palette and play on newer pastures. With the likes of seasoned players like Mourtada, Mandar Rao Desai and Rowlin Borges adding experience to the squad, former NorthEast United star Apuia Ralte will be joined by new signings Igor Angulo, Cassio Gabriel, Bradden Inman and Ygor Catatau, to propel the side through another hopefully impressive season.
Captain: Mourtada Fall
Coach: Des Buckingham
Players to look out for: Angulo, Ralte
Probably having the best team roster on paper, Bengaluru hopes to recover from a flawed 2020-21 campaign and get the engine going. For new coach Marco Pezzaiuoli, it will be a tricky but promising campaign after having made wholesale changes to the squad. With Indian star goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu under the bars, Bengaluru are assured of performances which would seldom disappoint.
Jayesh Rane, Rohit Kumar, Danish Farooq and Harmanpreet Singh join foreign additions, Bruno Ramires, Iman Basafa and Prince Ibara to bolster the squad for the season. Indian talisman and 2021 Khel Ratna awardee Sunil Chhetri is going to lead the side, whose campaign begins with a challenging fixture against NorthEast United on November 20.
Captain: Sunil Chhetri
Coach: Marco Pezzaiuoli
Player to watch out for: Bruno Ramires
Pictures: TT Archives, ATK Mohun Bagan, SC East Bengal, Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC