Round 2: What to expect from each team in the second half of Hero ISL 2018-19

The Indian national team's AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign came to a heart-breaking end after the Blue Tigers narrowly lost 1-0 to Bahrain. The Blue Tigers put in superb displays against highly-rated opponents and gave a good account of themselves in UAE. But with the national team’s engagement in the continental showpiece over, it's time for the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) to take the centre stage again. The first half of the tournament was a breath-taking affair, with some fine football on display. However, the second round promises a lot more as all the ten teams will be looking to finish the league phase strongly. Some will play for records, a few for a playoff spot, while others will take the field to salvage some pride, once the action resumes from January 25.

Today, we take a look at what the second round of Hero ISL 2018-19 fixtures has in store for each of the teams and what to expect from them.

Bengaluru FC

The Blues went through the first phase of Hero ISL 2018-19 undefeated and will look to pick up from where they left off before the break. Currently at the top of the table with 27 points from 11 matches, Carles Cuadrat's men look favourites to finish first. But with the other teams strengthening in the January transfer window, the Blues will have their work cut out for them. Bengaluru will play three home matches and four away fixtures in the next round.

A concern for the Blues will be the condition of key players Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Udanta Singh. The three played in all the matches in the recently-concluded AFC Asian Cup 2019, raising the risk of fatigue and exhaustion. On the other hand, Cuadrat is expected to be handed a boost with the return to fitness of star striker Miku. The Venezuelan missed Bengaluru's last few matches owing to an injury. It remains to be seen if the Blues make any notable additions to the squad in the transfer window.

Key Fixtures:

Mumbai City FC vs Bengaluru FC - January 27

Bengaluru FC vs NorthEast United FC - January 30

Bengaluru FC vs Kerala Blasters FC - February 6

Mumbai City FC

After a dodgy start to the season, Jorge Costa's men recovered in spectacular fashion and a club-record eight-match undefeated run lifted them to the second spot on the table very fast. The Islanders will look to carry the same momentum forward going into the next set of fixtures and seal their progression to the playoffs. Mumbai will be involved in six matches, evenly segregated into three home and away fixtures. However, the home assignments against three of the top four teams in Bengaluru FC, FC Goa and NorthEast United FC will pose a stiff test for Lucian Goian and Co.

Subhasish Bose has been involved in every minute of the Blue Tigers' AFC Asian Cup campaign and might need some time to recuperate. The 23-year-old has had a busy season in Hero ISL 2018-19 too, playing every second of Mumbai’s 12 matches. The Islanders have sent out Bikramjeet Singh on loan but are yet to make any significant additions to strengthen the squad.

Key Fixtures:

Mumbai City FC vs Bengaluru FC - January 27

Mumbai City FC vs FC Goa – February 1

Mumbai City FC vs NorthEast United FC – February 13

FC Pune City vs Mumbai City FC – March 2

FC Goa

The Gaurs have shown exceptional tenacity going forward this season and have shored up their forward line even further with the addition of Moroccan attacking midfielder Zaid Krouch. We can expect much of the same attacking intent from Sergio Lobera's men as they look to solidify or even better their position on the table. They are currently third with 20 points from 11 matches.

In the remaining seven fixtures, the Gaurs will have to play four times at home and three away, giving them a greater home advantage. However, the away fixtures against Bengaluru and Mumbai will pose a big challenge for Goa. Jackichand Singh was the only FC Goa player in the national squad for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 but had very limited involvement which means he will be fresh for the upcoming round of fixtures.

Key Fixtures:

Mumbai City FC vs FC Goa – February 1

Bengaluru FC vs FC Goa – February 21

FC Goa vs Chennaiyin FC – February 28

NorthEast United FC

For fourth-placed NorthEast United FC, their final six league fixtures will be crucial. The Highlanders are favourably positioned to create history by reaching the playoff stage for the first time ever but will have to ensure they finish the league strongly. Eelco Schattorie's men will be involved in three home and three away matches. The away fixtures will, however, pose a challenge considering they will play Bengaluru and Mumbai in their home turf.

The club hasn't been involved with any transfers so far and it remains to be seen whether they decide to bring someone in to strengthen the squad. Midfielder Rowllin Borges was involved in the AFC Asian Cup, but only played one full match.

Key Fixtures:

Bengaluru FC vs NorthEast United FC - January 30

Mumbai City FC vs NorthEast United FC – February 13

Jamshedpur FC

Just one point behind the top four, Cesar Ferrando's men will look to put up a strong front once the Hero ISL resumes and hopefully break into the top four to clinch a playoff spot. They will play three matches at home and three away. Points from their first engagement away from home after the break against FC Goa will do them a world of good. The Miners, however, will be in for a tough test when they face Bengaluru at home on February 27.

Jamshedpur haven't done any major transfer business so far, but are expected to welcome back Sergio Cidoncha, who missed their last few matches due to an injury. The Spaniard's return can help the team launch a strong final assault for a playoff spot.

Key Fixtures:

FC Goa vs Jamshedpur FC – January 28

ATK vs Jamshedpur FC – February 3

Jamshedpur FC vs Bengaluru FC – February 27

ATK

The two-time Hero ISL champions had an indifferent first-half of the campaign. Improving as the season wore on, Steve Coppell’s men slowly found their feet and managed to keep themselves in the race for a playoff spot. Currently sixth in the table with 16 points from 12 matches, the team will look to mount a final assault for a top four finish and it seems the team management is leaving no stones unturned.

ATK have been very active in the transfer window, roping in former Bengaluru midfielder Edu Garcia and signing India international Pritam Kotal for Delhi Dynamos FC. Striker Kalu Uche is also expected to join up with the team after a long injury layoff. ATK will certainly be a much stronger outfit going into the second round of fixtures, which involves them playing three home and three away fixtures.

Pronay Halder and new recruit Pritam Kotal’s fitness will be a major concern for the former Hero ISL champions given their heavy involvement in the AFC Asian Cup in UAE.

Key Fixtures:

Kerala Blasters FC vs ATK – January 25

ATK vs Jamshedpur FC – February 3

ATK vs Mumbai City FC – February 22

FC Pune City

After a dreadful start to the campaign, FC Pune City finished strongly before the winter break and will look to give a better account of themselves in the next round of fixtures under new head coach Phil Brown. The Englishman took over from interim manager Pradyum Reddy during the break and will look to use his wealth of experience to help the squad.

Iain Hume, who joined up with the squad a few matches before the winter break, will look to put his injury troubles behind and reclaim his past form, which made him one of the most successful strikers in Hero ISL history. Winger Ashique Kuruniyan played a crucial role for the Blue Tigers in the AFC Asian Cup and the experience the youngster gathered can be a huge help for the stallions once he shakes of the fatigue of the nerve-wracking tournament in UAE.

The Stallions may still be outside contenders for the top four finish but will need to win almost all their matches while hoping for a lot of favourable results in other matches.

Key Fixtures:

FC Pune City vs Mumbai City FC – March 2

Kerala Blasters FC

Following a 6-1 humbling at the hands of Mumbai City FC in their last match, the Blasters decided to part ways with David James and are yet to name a full-time replacement for the Englishman. Anas Edathodika’s injury, which forced him off the field in India’s last AFC Asian Cup match against Bahrain, will add to the Kerala fans and team management’s woes. Sandesh Jhingan and Halicharan Narzary had significant minutes under their belt at the AFC Asian Cup and it may take them sometime to recover fully from any possible fatigue and niggles. Youngster Nongdamba Naorem will be joining the squad from Hero I-League side Minerva Punjab FC and will look to impress in the Kerala colours once the league resumes.

Sitting on eighth and more than 10 points separating them from the final play-off place, the Blasters will be playing for pride, which can very well make them a dangerous side to come up against for any team.

Key Fixtures:

Kerala Blasters FC vs ATK – January 25

Bengaluru FC vs Kerala Blasters FC – February 6

Kerala Blasters FC vs Chennaiyin FC – February 15

Delhi Dynamos FC

Bringing his neat and tidy style of play to the Hero ISL, Dynamos coach Josep Gombau found it difficult in the first half of the season. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of the possession in most of their matches, Gombau’s team lacked the ruthless edge and the final pass that often separates success from failure. Their only win of the campaign came on the penultimate day of the first-half of the season against Chennaiyin FC. The team will now look to built on the result and put up a strong front in the second phase.

Pritam Kotal has moved on to ATK, while striker Andrija Kaludjerovic was released by the team, and we might get to see a very new-look Delhi team once the Hero ISL resumes. Mexican attacker Ulises Davila has been brought in to replace Kaludjerovic, and Gombau will hope that the former Chelsea player can provide the goals up front, which the Lions so direly lacked in the first half of the campaign.

Unlike most of the other sides, Delhi wouldn’t be too concerned about fatigue within their national team contingent. The likes of Vinit Rai and Narayan Das were unused substitutes and would be relatively fresh going into the final six matches of the Hero ISL season.

Key Fixtures:

Delhi Dynamos FC vs Kerala Blasters FC – January 31

Delhi Dynamos FC vs Bengaluru FC – February 17

ATK vs Delhi Dynamos FC – March 3

Chennaiyin FC

The defending champions have endured a horrid first-half of the season and are currently rooted to the bottom of the table with just five points from 12 matches. John Gregory’s men will be desperate to salvage some pride and put some wins under their belt in the last six matches. The two-time champs will be boosted by the return of local fan-favourite Dhanpal Ganesh after the midfielder missed out on the entire first-half of the season with an injury.

Midfielder Anirudh Thapa was a major part of the Blue Tigers’ plans at the AFC Asian Cup but didn’t make the starting line-up in the last match against Bahrain. It was confirmed that the 20-year-old was suffering from a minor back injury before the match and Chennaiyin fans will hope he regains full fitness soon to help the team end their campaign on a positive note.

Irrespective of their current standing in the table, Chennaiyin can prove to be a challenge for any team if they manage to recover their form.

Key Fixtures:

Chennaiyin FC vs Bengaluru FC – February 9

Kerala Blasters FC vs Chennaiyin FC – February 15

FC Goa vs Chennaiyin FC – February 28

You can view the full fixture list here.

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