The Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season was anticipated to be different and intriguing for several reasons. The spotlight was not only on established head coaches like Juan Ferrando, Des Buckingham, Ivan Vukamanovic, Simon Grayson, and Manolo Marquez seeking to make their mark with their respective teams, but also on the return of former head coaches such as Sergio Lobera, Carles Cuadrat, and Owen Coyle. Additionally, the entry of a new team, Punjab FC, added further interest. As we reach the midway point of the league stage, the excitement shows no signs of waning.

While some clubs have struggled in the ISL 2023-24 season, others have exceeded expectations. However, the matches have been highly competitive, with teams giving their all on the field. With the exception of Hyderabad FC, every other team has secured wins this season, demonstrating that any team is capable of defeating another.

As clubs prepare to resume action after the international break, they will aim to hit their stride and regain momentum. The January transfer window also presents an opportunity for teams to address gaps and strengthen their squads. With that, we point out what fans should look expect in the new year. 

Tough fight for top spot 

In contrast to Mumbai City FC's dominant position at the halfway point of the previous season, the race for the ISL League Shield this season has intensified. Kerala Blasters FC leads the table, closely followed by FC Goa, Odisha FC, and Mumbai City FC, in the second, third, and fourth positions, respectively. There is only a four-point gap between Kerala Blasters FC and Mumbai City FC, with the latter having a game in hand, highlighting the tight competition at the top. Petr Kratky’s side has suffered only one defeat this season.

FC Goa, despite being in the second spot, has emerged as the team to beat, winning seven out of ten games and maintaining an unbeaten status. Odisha FC, positioned third, has entered the top half with back-to-back wins. Despite a mixed start, Sergio Lobera’s side has managed to secure points, remaining unbeaten in their last eight games since their last defeat in October.

Mohun Bagan Super Giant has faced a tough period entering the new year, experiencing three consecutive defeats for the first time in the league's history. However, similar to FC Goa and East Bengal FC, they have played only 10 games, and maximum points in their upcoming fixtures could turn things around, easing the pressure.

Playoff race intensity

The fight for playoff spots promises to be as intense as the previous season. Currently, NorthEast United FC occupies the sixth spot in the ISL standings with 12 points from as many games, but competitors are breathing down their necks. Chennaiyin FC, experiencing a mixed season under Coyle, is in a similar position.

Bengaluru FC, positioned ninth, has 11 points from 12 games and has made an impressive start under new head coach Gerard Zaragoza, winning one and drawing once in their two games this season. The Blues share the same points as East Bengal FC, which has lost only three of their 10 games so far and remains unbeaten in their last five matches.

Jamshedpur FC and Punjab FC, positioned in the bottom three, are not far behind. Only a three-point gap separates Jamshedpur FC from sixth-placed NorthEast United FC. With the appointment of Khalid Jamil as their new head coach, Jamshedpur FC will aim to turn things around in the second half of the season.

Punjab FC is just a point behind Jamshedpur FC and, despite their struggles, have presented a fight to all their opponents. With just two losses in their last six matches, the team is gradually finding its rhythm.

Hyderabad FC’s challenge 

Having witnessed a massive overhaul in the summer, with key players from the last season like Bartholomew Ogbeche, Odei Onaindia, and Akash Mishra parting ways, alongside the departure of former head coach Manolo Marquez, it has been a tough season for Hyderabad FC so far.

Despite a winless run, they have demonstrated resilience in games, losing only three of their 11 matches by a two-margin or more. The team's ability to salvage points and compete away from home is noteworthy. They have lost just three of their 11 games by a two-margin or more, highlighting that it has not been easy for teams to beat the 2021-22 ISL Cup winners. 

The team's ability to salvage points and compete away from home is noteworthy. Three of their four draws have come away from home, and Hyderabad FC has come back while trailing to salvage a point. Having succumbed to defeats in their final two matches, Thangboi Singto’s side aren’t in the best of form. But one win can change the morale of the dressing room, and confidence can do great wonders for any team.

In conclusion, the diverse subplots highlight the unpredictable nature of the league as it enters the second half. While some teams will look forward to maintaining the momentum, others have the potential to bounce back with determination and high morale. Bengaluru FC's journey from the bottom half to the final last season serves as a testament to the league's unpredictability, emphasising that nothing should be considered impossible.