In Matchweek 17 of the Indian Super League (ISL), only nine teams were in action, with notable absentees including Kerala Blasters FC, Bengaluru FC, and NorthEast United FC. Despite the limited fixtures, the battle for the top spot and playoff positions intensified after an eventful week of play.

Six matches unfolded, each witnessing goals and excitement. The only fixture that ended in a draw was between Mumbai City FC and FC Goa. East Bengal FC, Punjab FC, Odisha FC and Mohun Bagan Super Giant also recorded vital wins, adding a layer of significance to the Matchweek's outcomes.

Now that Matchweek 17 is concluded, let's delve into the key highlights and talking points from this action-packed week in the ISL.

It’s Talal time

Madih Talal once again took centre stage as Punjab FC secured a commendable victory against Hyderabad FC, marking their fourth win of the season. The ISL debutants, with their third win this year, are proving their mettle and establishing themselves as a formidable force. And at the forefront of their success is Talal.

A shift to a more attacking formation has brought out the best in the Frenchman, who has been operating in the hole behind Luka Majcen and Jordan Wilmar Gil. Talal has been the driving force for Punjab FC, consistently contributing to their offensive plays. Even the most resilient defences have struggled to contain him when he hits his stride.

In the match against Hyderabad FC, Talal showcased his quality by setting up Majcen for the opening goal and adding to the scoresheet with a remarkable strike, executing a half-volley with finesse. The 26-year-old has accumulated eight goal contributions this season, boasting three goals and five assists. His assist count ties with Chennaiyin FC’s Rafael Crivellaro, making them the leaders in the league.

Even Punjab FC head coach, Vergetis, openly acknowledged Talal's prowess after their win, recognising the quality he consistently brings to the team. 

“Talal is a high-quality player. It is very good for Indian football to have players like Talal, as they encourage other players to come to India at younger ages,” he said.

Yasir rediscovering his old form

With two goals in as many games for FC Goa, midfielder Mohammad Yasir is getting back to his best. Yasir scored the equaliser against Mumbai City FC with a stunning strike, helping the Gaurs secure a crucial point away from home. 

Having joined FC Goa on loan from Hyderabad FC, Yasir is mirroring the outstanding form he displayed in the previous season. Under the management of Manolo Marquez, Yasir enjoyed his best-ever season, registering three goals and four assists. His impactful contributions played a pivotal role in securing Hyderabad FC's playoff qualification for the second consecutive season, having won the ISL Cup a season before. 

Reuniting with Marquez at FC Goa during the January transfer window, Yasir has not only displayed signs of getting back to his best but has matched his previous season's goal tally. With three goals already to his name this season, Yasir will be aiming to build on this impressive form. Marquez too acknowledged Yasir's development, emphasising the midfielder's evolving role after their game against Mumbai City FC.

“It's not just about scoring two goals in the last two games, but he is demonstrating his quality after overcoming difficult times with Hyderabad FC. For me, maybe he is the best left-footer in the country (right now),” the Spaniard said. 

Fortress Kalinga

Odisha FC once again showcased their strength as a team at home by securing a thrilling comeback win against East Bengal FC. Despite conceding within the first minute, they rallied back to claim all three points, marking the fourth time this season that they have come from behind to clinch victory.

This victory extended Odisha FC's unbeaten run at home to an impressive 10 games, currently their longest streak at home. Their home form includes seven wins and three draws. Additionally, the Kalinga Warriors have done well on the road too. They have not suffered a defeat in their last 13 league games, establishing another club record.

Sitting at the top of the table, Odisha FC owes much of their success to formidable performances at home. Seven out of their 10 wins have been secured on their home turf, underscoring their strength and dominance in familiar surroundings. The passionate support of their fans at the Kalinga Stadium has aided the team, creating a formidable atmosphere that has contributed to their impressive performances.

Habas steering Mohun Bagan SG’s ship 

Mohun Bagan SG made a significant statement by climbing to the second spot in the standings after a stylish victory over Jamshedpur FC, marking their fourth win in five matches and their 10th win of the season. The result narrowed the gap with league leaders Odisha FC, as the Mariners find themselves just two points behind, with a game in hand.

Head coach Antonio Habas deserves immense credit for orchestrating a remarkable turnaround since taking charge midway through the season. Following three consecutive losses in December under former head coach Juan Ferrando, doubts arose about Mohun Bagan SG's potential to contend for the League Shield. However, under Habas, the team has yet to suffer a defeat, securing four wins and two draws in their six matches so far.

The Mariners have showcased excellence both in attack and defence under Habas, with the goalless draw against Odisha FC being the only fixture where they didn't find the net. Notably, Mohun Bagan SG has netted 12 goals and kept four clean sheets in the six games under Habas. 

The team's success isn't solely attributed to foreign players, as the Indian contingent, including Manvir Singh, Liston Colaco, Subashish Bose, Sahal Abdul Samad, and Deepak Tangri, have also made substantial contributions. Additionally, Habas has placed trust in young talents like Dippendu Biswas and Abhishek Suryavanshi, who have displayed maturity beyond their years.

With these positive developments, the Mariners are on an upward trajectory under Habas, who has expressed his determination to guide the team back to the top position and compete for the League Shield.