Major narratives which will play out in the second half of Hero ISL 2018-19
The Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 is all set to resume on January 25 after over a month-long winter break. The first 59 matches of the league phase got the ball rolling, but it will be in the business end of the season which will shape the campaign as a whole. The remaining batch of fixtures will answer some very important questions and, undoubtedly, the biggest of them all will be 'Which team will take home the title?'. However, there have been a number of mouth-watering subplots brewing throughout the season, which will also meet a suitable conclusion.
Ahead of the restart, we take a look at some of the important narratives which will play out over the course of the next two months or so.
1. Which teams will make it to the top four?
Before the final question about the eventual champions can be answered, it's imperative that we get to know the final contenders. Only four teams can qualify for the playoff stages and as the league table stands now, as many as six teams are in with a chance. If seventh-placed FC Pune City can continue their good form and get the rub of the green, it may very well turn out to be a seven-horse race to the finish.
ATK, currently sixth in the table, are just four points off third-placed FC Goa, thus showcasing the value of every point in the neck-to-neck battle. Barring any major collapse, table toppers Bengaluru FC and second-placed Mumbai City FC are favourites to go through. However, expect a tough race between FC Goa, NorthEast United FC (currently 4th), Jamshedpur FC (5th) and ATK for the remaining two spots. ATK, in particular, have made good use of the January transfer window and are expected to make a strong final push.
2. Can Bengaluru finish the season as 'invincibles'?
Going through a long season unbeaten is no easy task, but anyone who has seen Carles Cuadrat's men in action this season won't put it past them either. Simply sensational in most matches and pragmatic whenever needed, the Blues have been unbeaten in their 11 outings so far. While winning the title will be Sunil Chhetri and Co's primary objective, it will be interesting to see if they can do it without a single blemish in their record.
3. Who will win the three-way race for the Golden Boot?
The coveted Golden Boot has three suitors this season. Goa’s Ferran Corominas leads the way with 10 goals, closely followed by Mumbai’s Modou Sougou and NorthEast’s Bartholomew Ogbeche with 9 each. Should all three teams make it to the playoff stages, we could have quite a race on our hands.
4. Which goalkeeper will win the Golden Glove award?
Like the race for the Golden Boot, this season's bid for the Golden Glove award is also turning out to be a three-way tussle. Bengaluru's Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (123.75 minutes per goal) is in a healthy lead, but both Mumbai's Amrinder Singh (98.3 minutes per goal) and ATK's Arindam Bhattacharja (98.18 minutes per goal) are perfectly capable of closing the gap and making a contest out of it.
5. Who will end the season as Hero ISL’s all-time top scorer?
Ferran Corominas equalling Iain Hume's goals tally has been one of the major developments from the season so far. With 28 strikes to their names, the two strikers currently share the title of Hero ISL's all-time top scorer. Both players will play an active part in the remainder of the season and it will be interesting to see who can edge forward in this race. Coro will be the favourite considering his current form, but as history would suggest, never write Hume off.
6. Can Chennaiyin, Kerala and Delhi salvage some pride?
It has been a forgettable season so far for the likes of Chennaiyin FC, Kerala Blasters FC and Delhi Dynamos FC. The three bottom teams endured a torrid time in the first half of the season and are essentially out of the race for a playoff spot. But for all three, particularly last season's champions Chennaiyin, the second half of the season will provide a chance for redemption. The trio will be playing for pride and have the ability to become party crashers for any of the teams vying for the top four spots. How these teams conduct themselves in their remaining matches can have a telling effect on the playoff equation.