Hero ISL 2018-19: The season that was
The fifth season of Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) concluded last Sunday, with Bengaluru FC clinching the title in an enthralling final against FC Goa at the Mumbai Football Arena. The match was a fitting end to an action-packed season, which presented fans with some brilliant football and quite a few memorable moments.
Here's a quick look back at how each team fared in the league this season.
Bengaluru FC: Champion stuff
Having replaced Albert Roca at the helm, the primary objective for Carles Cuadrat was to better last season’s feat and win the elusive Hero ISL title. Cuadrat tweaked what was already an entertaining style of play to incorporate and build a much more pragmatic aspect on the field. Teamwork, fighting spirit and talent worked arm in arm at Bengaluru as the well-oiled Blues became champions by defeating FC Goa in the Hero ISL final.
FC Goa: Impressive entertainers
Goan teams have always made name for themselves in Indian football but FC Goa, in the last two seasons, have marked their territory in style. Sergio Lobera retained most of his squad from last season and entrusted with them his attack-minded Spanish philosophy. A leaky defence was the only stumbling block pulling Goa back and it was sorted when Lobera paired Mourtada Fall with Carlos Pena at the heart of the Gaurs' backline. Brave decisions like fielding Mandar Rao Dessai as a left-back and using Hugo Boumous effectively from the bench worked wonders for the Spaniard. The Gaurs may have faltered at the final hurdle but it was a season to remember.
Mumbai City FC: A well-oiled machine
The impact of the foreign contingent made a huge difference in Mumbai City FC’s journey to the semi-finals. After a sluggish start, the players stepped up to the plate and delivered. A damning 5-1 defeat in the first leg of the semi-finals to FC Goa crashed the Islanders’ dreams, but if they can retain the core of their squad, the future is bright.
NorthEast United FC: Almost a Ferrari
Eelco Schattorie’s NorthEast United FC struggled with injuries and suspensions throughout the season, especially in defence. However, a combination of team spirit and man management rinsed out every bit from a fatigued squad as the Highlanders made it to their first-ever semis. Injuries to Mislav Komorski, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Rowllin Borges and Federico Gallego at crucial junctures are the only things that pulled a spirited NorthEast back. With a summer to expand his squad, NorthEast can dream to achieve better.
Jamshedpur FC: Not bad, but not good enough
An abnormally high number of stalemates turned a promising start into a disappointing season for Jamshedpur as they missed out on a spot in the semi-finals. They did, however, remain in the race for top four until the very end and were a squad full of talent. Michael Soosairaj and Tiri performed well, with the former excelling in his debut season in the Hero ISL. Tim Cahill and Sergio Cidoncha’s campaigns were disrupted due to injuries but Mario Arques and Memo formed a formidable partnership in midfield. The Men of Steel will feel disappointed to miss out on the top four.
ATK: Failed to live up to the hype
ATK’s squad was filled with stars and the players on their bench for most matches could very easily have been first team names at any other club in the Hero ISL. But the Kolkata-based team’s woes with injuries continued from last season and this time around, it was a goal scorer that they badly needed. Steve Coppell’s side was adept at the back as usual, with Andre Bikey and John Johnson doing a good job in maintaining the coach’s reputation. However, injuries to key forwards, Emiliano Alfaro and Kalu Uche meant the coach had to alter his plans. Manuel Lanzarote wasn’t consistent enough whereas Edu Garcia's arrival to bolster the squad came a little too late. But the rise of two promising talents, Komal Thatal and Ankit Mukherjee, is a positive.
FC Pune City: Failed to recover in time
After a managerial change early in the campaign after just three matches, Pune struggled to pick up wins and gain momentum to truly get their season up and running. Interim coach Pradyum Reddy did well to steady the ship before Phil Brown took over and helped the Stallions cross the finish line. Pune lost only one of their last eight fixtures and showed that they have the team to fight for a top four spot, something that they will be looking to do next season.
Delhi Dynamos FC: Falter but show promise
Delhi were slow to start off their season, with the players taking their time to adapt to the newly-appointed head coach Josep Gombau’s football philosophy. By the time they fully learnt his methods, the team had fallen too far behind in the standings. However, the Lions, who fielded a young squad, showed plenty of promise and brimmed with energy when they performed to their full potential and played some of the best football in the league in the second half of the season. Gombau looks to have built a stable core of players at Delhi, with Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nandhakumar Sekar, Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Vinit Rai some of the young gems waiting to fulfil their potential in the upcoming season. There was enough evidence of something special and exciting brewing in the capital.
Kerala Blasters FC: Back-to-back heartbreaks
Kerala Blasters started the season with renewed hope after missing out on the semi-finals last season. But after an opening day win against ATK, results went downhill and the team went on a winless run of 14 matches, effectively ending any hope of a top-four finish and picking up just two wins along the way. Lack of goals and a creative player to pick out a pass hurt Blasters’ chances this season as they finished a lowly ninth. Their brightest spark was Sahal Abdul Samad whose consistent excellence in a flailing midfield earned him the Hero ISL Emerging Player of the Season award.
Chennaiyin FC: Title defence gone horribly wrong
Chennaiyin FC’s title defence got off to a poor start and John Gregory’s team never recovered. The Marina Machans won just two matches, one came after six matches and the other came with three matches left in the season. There was no cohesion to Chennaiyin’s attacks and the defending champions looked like a totally different side than the one which claimed the title last season. Henrique Sereno’s departure and Dhanpal Ganesh’s injury further affected Chennaiyin’s performances as Gregory struggled to come up with a solution. While the defence was lacklustre, lack of goals from Jeje Lalpekhlua and co. rendered Chennaiyin’s game ineffective.