Hero ISL Chapter 6: Third time’s the charm
The sixth edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) was a fascinating one that witnessed the introduction of two new teams, an edge-of-your-seat goal fest, captivating moments on the pitch and a lot more. The 2019-20 season was a delight to the fans as it involved 294 goals being scored, averaging 3.09 goals per match.
ATK reclaimed the throne after a wait of over two seasons as they bested two-time winners Chennaiyin FC in a gripping final which concluded in a 3-1 win for ATK.
Here’s a recap of each team’s journey in the Hero ISL 2019-20 season to refresh your memory:
To get back to winning ways, ATK brought Antonio Habas as their head coach ahead of the Hero ISL 2019-20 season. Although ATK lost their opening game to Kerala Blasters FC, they picked themselves up and went on an unbeaten run of six games, losing to FC Goa in their next one. Habas’ side put up consistent performances leading them to finish second in the league table with 34 points, making it to the top four after two seasons. Defender Sumit Rathi was rock solid in ATK’s defence as the side conceded only 16 goals in the league phase, second best to Bengaluru FC. The Kolkata-based side went up against defending champions Bengaluru FC in the semi-finals. They lost the away leg 1-0 to the Blues but Habas’ men rebounded with a 3-1 win in the home leg, progressing to the finals with a 3-2 aggregate win. ATK took on the Marina Machans in the finals, a highly competitive side, but ATK showed their dominance as they put on a terrific performance, winning 3-1 to lift their third Hero ISL title, becoming the first team ever to do so.
The defending champions were on a roll as they started the campaign with a seven-match unbeaten run. The Blues led by Carles Cuadrat were one of the top defensive sides in the league conceding only 13 goals, fewest in the 2019-20 campaign. Keeping 10 clean sheets in 18 games, Chhetri and Co finished third in the league table with 30 points. They advanced to the semi-finals where they won 1-0 against ATK in the home leg, but it didn’t suffice as BFC lost their advantage with a 3-1 loss in the away leg, marking their exit in the 2019-20 Hero ISL campaign. Despite a tremendous defensive display of record-best 11 clean sheets in 20 games, the Blues struggled offensively, managing just 24 goals throughout the league, relying heavily on captain Sunil Chhetri, who was the top Indian goalscorer for the second consecutive season.
The John Gregory led side looked clueless in the first half of the season winning just two games out of nine. This underwhelming start to the season led Gregory to part his ways with the club, being replaced by Owen Coyle. Under Coyle, the Marina Machans lost just one game followed by an unbeaten run of 8 games in the league phase, qualifying for the semi-finals, a feat which seemed nearly impossible. After finishing fourth in the league standing with 29 points, Chennaiyin FC had a thrilling encounter against FC Goa in the semi-finals where CFC won 4-1 in the first leg, followed by a 4-2 defeat by the hands of FC Goa in the second leg but eventually advancing to the final stage due to a 6-5 aggregate win. Coyle’s side could’ve scripted the perfect fairytale ending but lost 3-1 against ATK in the finals. CFC striker Nerijus Valskis topped the goalscoring charts, netting 15 goals including one in the final that won him the Golden Boot.
FC Goa imprinted their name as one of the most consistent sides in the league after another top four finish in three successive seasons. Lobera’s side scored a whopping 51 goals in 20 games this season, beating their own record. If that wasn’t enough, the Gaurs also made the record for having the best goal difference of +23 in this season. Even with coach Lobera being replaced by interim coach Clifford Miranda at the end of the season, the Gaurs continued their impressive form, winning the last three games in the league phase. Finishing the season on top of the table with 39 points, the Goa-based side won the introductory League Winners’ Shield, which is awarded to the table-toppers. FC Goa marked their exit in the 2019-20 season after they lost against Chennaiyin FC in an 11-goal thriller in the semi-finals, losing 6-5 on aggregate. Although they couldn’t achieve their desired results, the 2019-20 campaign was an unforgettable one for the Gaurs.
Newcomers Hyderabad FC couldn’t make much of an impact in their inaugural Hero ISL 2019-20 season. The Phil Brown led side managed to register just two wins out of 18 games, with the first one coming in the first half of the season and the second one coming in the last game of the season. HFC looked hapless as they went on a 14-game winless run, joint-longest in the league. Javier Lopez took over the reins from Brown as the interim coach in the closing stages of the season, but it was too little too late as HFC finished on the bottom of the table with 10 points.
Jamshedpur appointed Antonio Iriondo as their new head coach ahead of the 2019-20 season. They started the campaign well, losing just two of their first nine fixtures, looking as one of the favourites to make it to the top four. The Red Miners fizzled out in the second half of the season as they registered only one win out of nine games as they missed two of their vital players, Sergio Castel and Francisco Luna (Piti) due to injuries. The Men of Steel finished eighth in the league table with 18 points.
Kerala Blasters FC
The Blasters signed former NorthEast United manager Eelco Schattorie as their new manager ahead of the Hero ISL 2019-20 season. Blasters started off with a 2-1 comeback win against rivals ATK but soon found themselves in a gray area, going winless in their next nine fixtures. The Tuskers couldn’t field their strongest XI due to key defenders Sandesh Jhingan and Jairo Fernandes missing out on the action due to their respective injuries. Although forwards Bartholomew Ogbeche and Raphael Bouli formed a terrific partnership, menacing the opponents in the latter half of the campaign, it wasn’t enough for them to reach the top four. Schattorie’s men secured seventh place in the league standings with 19 points. Despite a worrisome campaign, the Blasters will take back their league double over rivals ATK as the main highlight of the season.
Mumbai City FC
Jorge Costa continued for a second straight season with Mumbai City FC. The Islanders were off to a sloppy start in the first half of the season, managing just three wins in nine games. Costa’s men upped the ante in the latter half, winning 19 points in nine games, dragging their way to the top four, but they lost the top four spot after back-to-back losses in the last two matches of the game. The Islanders finished fifth in the league table with 26 points, unable to qualify for the semi-finals. Their league double over Bengaluru FC will be the highlight of the season as they became the first-ever team in ISL history to do so.
NorthEast United FC
NEUFC replaced Eelco Schattorie with Robert Jarni as their new head coach for the 2019-20 season. After a remarkable semi-final finish in the last season, much was expected from Jarni’s men. The Highlanders started on a high note, going unbeaten in their first six matches, picking up ten points in the process. With their talisman Asamoah Gyan departing out due to an injury, NEUFC couldn't manage to get back to winning ways as they went on a winless run of 14 games, joint-longest in the league. Following unsatisfactory results, Jarni was replaced by Khalid Jamil as the interim coach for the latter half of the season. The Guwahati-based side finished ninth in the league table with 14 points to their name.
With a young side at disposal, newcomers Odisha FC didn’t make the start they were looking for in the primary stages of the 2019-20 campaign as they picked up only six points in the first half of the season. Led by Josep Gombau, the Juggernauts then went on a four-game winning streak followed by 3 back-to-back losses, this inconsistency of games left them puzzled and hence were unable to make the top four. OFC eventually finished sixth in the table achieving 25 points but earned widespread praise for playing a new brand of football and fielding a dynamic and young side.