The year 2023 is going to be crucial for many teams as there’s plenty to fight for in the ongoing Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season. Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC have been battling for the top spot week after week, while on the other hand, the race for the playoffs is still wide open with Kerala Blasters FC, ATK Mohun Bagan, FC Goa and Odisha FC making up the top six. Chennaiyin FC, East Bengal FC, and Bengaluru FC are not far off. Meanwhile, Jamshedpur FC and bottom-placed NorthEast United, the only teams who have registered below 10 points this season, will also hope to put themselves back in the reckoning for the playoffs as another exciting Matchweek awaits us.

FC Goa will welcome an in-form Hyderabad FC side in the opening fixture of Matchweek 14, followed by NorthEast United FC locking horns against Bengaluru FC in Guwahati. Saturday’s double-header will witness Jamshedpur FC taking on Chennaiyin FC followed by Odisha FC squaring off against East Bengal FC. Sunday promises to be a cracker with unbeaten Mumbai City FC going up against Kerala Blasters FC, with both sides riding high on confidence.

With Matchweek 14 around the corner, here are the key narratives to keep an eye on:

High-flying Hyderabad FC face FC Goa test

When FC Goa suffered a narrow defeat to Hyderabad FC in the reverse fixture in October at the G.M.C Balayogi Athletic Stadium in October, the result could have gone either way. Javier Siverio had given Hyderabad FC an early lead, but the visitors tried to get back in the game. They tried and tried, and the best chance to make amends arrived at the death after winning a penalty, but Alvaro Vazquez spurned his opportunity from the spot.

The two sides meet again, this time at the Fatorda stadium, and will be aiming for no less than three points. While Hyderabad FC find themselves on the second spot in the Hero ISL standings after just two defeats all season, FC Goa, despite their inconsistent form this season, are placed fifth.

FC Goa come into this game on the back of a defeat to ATK Mohun Bagan, but playing at home has been one of their biggest strengths, with the Gaurs losing just one game all season. Defending Hero ISL champions Hyderabad FC will have their task cut out in what will be an enticing fixture.   

“We need to play with our identity as we did in the first game (of the reverse fixture) in Hyderabad. I think the defeat was unfair and we were close to getting a point. We will be competitive. It’s not going to be easy for us, nor for them,” FC Goa head coach Carlos Pena said.

Can Bengaluru FC keep their playoff hopes alive?

Ninth on the Hero ISL table. Just 10 points from 12 games including eight defeats. Bengaluru FC’s playoff hopes are slowly fading away, but they can surely make up ground by collecting as many points as possible in their remaining games.

A victory against a struggling NorthEast United FC side could help them set the tone right, with the Blues 10 points away from the playoff spot. The Simon Grayson-led side have scored the fewest goals this season (8), but the fact that the Highlanders have shipped the most goals this season (33) will encourage them to put up a good show and grab the win.

BFC are nine points away from the top six and three points in Guwahati would hand them a huge boost to get back in the race for the playoffs.    

Chance for Chennaiyin FC to close the gap on Odisha FC, FC Goa

Chennaiyin FC have produced some fine performances this season and have been one of the most exciting attacking teams in the league this season. They are placed seventh in the standings, but are ranked fourth for most goals scored this season (22) and have a game in hand.

The two-time Hero ISL champions are currently five points off the top six. Their next challenge sees them take on a struggling Jamshedpur FC side and Thomas Brdaric’s side will be targeting maximum points from this fixture.

With sixth-placed Odisha FC struggling for points in their recent games, this Matchweek will be crucial for Chennaiyin FC if they are to maintain pace with the Juggernauts. Anything less than three points, and Brdaric side’s will only make it harder for themselves to climb further up.   

East Bengal FC look to avenge defeat against Odisha FC 

A two-goal lead at half-time, no goals conceded and momentum in their favour. East Bengal FC looked to be on course for their first victory of the season back in November against Odisha FC, only for the visitors to produce a stellar show and steal the three points from them after winning with a scoreline of 4-2.

The two sides meet again and both of them have witnessed a mixed bag of results since that clash in Kolkata. Odisha FC have dropped down to the sixth position after going winless in their last four games while eighth-placed East Bengal FC have finally got the monkey off their back following their first home win of the season after beating Bengaluru FC in style. With four wins in the bag, the Red & Golds have matched their win tally from the last two seasons combined, showing how far they have come. 

There is just a difference of seven points between the two teams at present. And for East Bengal FC, it will be another chance to repeat the correct things they did last time out against Odisha FC, and more importantly, correct the wrongs.

A high-octane fixture in Mumbai

On an eight-match unbeaten run, Kerala Blasters FC are peaking at the right moment. They have not only consolidated their place in the playoffs, but have put themselves back in contention for the top spot besides Hyderabad FC and Mumbai City FC.

They take on Mumbai City FC in their next challenge in what promises to be a litmus test in their fight for the League Winners’ Shield. The Islanders are the only unbeaten team this season and have won four of their six games at home. MCFC will start as favourites, having beaten their opponents in the reverse fixture, but you never know what the Blasters might have up their sleeve with the form they are in.

“It will be a good game with points teams going for points. These kinds of games are nice to follow and nice to watch. As a coach, it is nice to prepare. I prepare to play these kinds of games every weekend. It gives something extra, something spicy. Two coaches, two teams, who like to play offensive, modern football. We will go there and try to play a good game,” Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic said.