Previous
Manchester City
Fulham
5:00 AM UTC
Game Details
Tranmere Rovers
Manchester United
7:00 AM UTC
Game Details
Shrewsbury Town
Liverpool
9:00 AM UTC
Game Details
Next
Real KashmirReal Kashmir
Chennai CityChennai City
2
1
FT
Game Details

I-League 2019-20: Which team has the edge?

Indian I-League
Read

I-League 2019-20: Which team has the edge?

The 2019-20 I-League season will kick off on Saturday, with Aizawl taking on Mohun Bagan. Who are the favourites for a title challenge this year? Who is most likely to get relegated? Here is ESPN's primer on all the 11 clubs. 

Chennai City

The Good

The champions have done well to keep hold of star striker, and last year's golden boot winner, Pedro Manzi. They've a lost a few of their regulars, including defenders Edwin Vanspaul and Gaurav Bora, but they've made their name by unearthing hidden local talent, and this season could see more of the same.

The Bad

Nestor Gordillo's contract was terminated in August after he was found to have illegally signed a new contract with ex-ISL side Pune City. The club argue that they have done the right thing in terms of setting an example, but replacing the Spaniard's creative drive in midfield is going to be some task.

What to expect

Will need Manzi to be firing on all cylinders from the get-go to avoid a fate similar to the previous two 'surprise' champions -- mid-table mediocrity.

East Bengal

The Good

There's continuity with coach Alejandro Menéndez, and considering the promise he showed in his first season in charge, that's a good thing. Already pleasing to watch, this continuity could well see them blend aesthetics with effectiveness.

The Bad

Losing your two top-scorers from the previous season is never going to help matters, is it? A lot depends on how the newly arrived forwards Marcos de la Espanda (from the Spanish third division) and Ronaldo Oliviera (from Salgaocar) settle in.

What to expect

East Bengal fans expect, nay, demand a title challenge every season. Anything less will be considered a massive disappointment.

Gokulam Kerala

The Good 

The form team of the 2019-20 pre-season. They lifted the Durand Cup and narrowly lost out in the semifinals of the Sheikh Kamal Invitational in Bangladesh. And striker Marcus Joseph seems to be in the form of his life.

With better kick-off times and club-driven improvements to the EMS stadium, they should have plenty of vocal support too.

The Bad

Gokulam haven't had such expectations thrust on them in their short existence, and after much hype, a good showing this season is a must. On the pitch, meanwhile, their midfield seems too lightweight and resources could be stretched as the season wears on.

What to expect

Anything less than a title challenge will be considered a bit of a downer after what they've done in the pre-season.

NEROCA

The Good

NEROCA have attempted to shore up their defence with the signings of Trindad and Tobago internationals, goalkeeper Marvin Devon Philip and centre-back Taryk Simpson. Up front, Malian winger Boubacar Diarra and former Bagan winger Abinash Ruidas should add a touch more firepower.

The Bad

They have made eight new signings, including six foreigners, this transfer window and most of them will be pushing for a starting place. While this kind of spending can revitalise the squad, they always run the risk of destabilising the existing set-up completely.

What to expect

One of the weakest squads in the league, and would do well to avoid a relegation dogfight. The Imphal derby (with TRAU) could prove to be a feisty affair. 

Punjab FC

The Good

New arrivals from Mumbai City, Sanju Pradhan and Anwar Ali, are expected to stabilise the core of the team while former Mohun Bagan striker Asier Pierre Dipanda will be hoping bring the goals back to Punjab.

The Bad

They've never really recovered from the loss of Chencho Gyeltshen. A paltry return of 10 goals in 19 games (nine lower than the next lowest, Indian Arrows) speaks volumes of their scoring troubles. Dipanda should help, but Punjab's transfer activity might just weigh them down. If you thought NEROCA's eight new signings were a bit much, Punjab have 17 new ones.

What to expect

With new partners on board, the club formerly known as Minerva Punjab will be based out of Ludhiana this year. Dipanda's addition should fire them up the table, but they will take time to adapt and it would be a surprise if they make a sustained challenge to the title.

Aizawl FC

The good

Aizawl's local connect. Liberian playmaker Alfred Jaryan and defenders Juuko Kassaga (Uganda) and Kingsley Eze (Nigeria) are the only foreign players. Meanwhile, eight academy players have been promoted to the first team. They have all played together for a long time, and communication within the team will not be a problem.

The bad

With no proven goal-scorer, Aizawl will have to depend on Willliam Lalnunfela, and possible contributions from Jaryan from time to time. Without goals, a young team could end up chasing most contests.

What to expect

The fixtures haven't been too kind to Aizawl -- they face three former champions in Mohun Bagan, Chennai City and Punjab FC in three of their first five matches -- and they don't get an extended run of three matches at home in Aizawl until their 10th game against Real Kashmir in February next year. This will test the mettle of a team with many players with little top-level experience.

Churchill Brothers

The good

Willis Plaza was the league's joint top-scorer last season with 21 goals, and understands the demands of Indian football. Churchill have also brought fellow Trinidad & Tobago international Robert Primus to shore up the defence. Most importantly, Karim Bencherifa, someone familiar with Indian football and an I-League winner with another Goan team (Salgaocar), returns to coach the club that first brought him notice in Indian football 13 seasons ago.

The bad

The Churchill defence can be a shaky entity, and while James Kithan had an outstanding 2018-19 season in goal, the fact that they conceded 23 goals despite finishing fourth was down to a number of late goals conceded in crucial games. 

What to expect

Churchill get going with a home game against Punjab FC, but then play Mohun Bagan and Real Kashmir away, and then host East Bengal after their second home game against Indian Arrows. That's a tough start to get the league going, and how well they can rise up to the challenge of getting at least nine out of the 15 points on offer could determine how the rest of the season goes for them.

Mohun Bagan

The good

The strong Spanish contingent of Mohun Bagan should make them an attractive team to watch. Head coach Kibu Vicuna is a Spaniard himself, and his squad will have Salva Chamorro and Julen Colinas leading the line, with Fran Gonzalez and Joseba Beitia pulling the strings behind them.

The bad

An over-reliance on the foreign contingent to perform. VP Suhair was the only Indian to score a goal in pre-season, and while the defence has proved itself to be a tidy one, Bagan will need the foreign players to click from the outset if they are to challenge for the title.

What to expect

Bagan have the team to go all the way, but consistency has been difficult to find ever since they went beyond Sanjoy Sen as coach a couple of seasons ago. Bagan have some exciting Indian talents, but they are either past their peak (Dhanachandra Singh and Ashutosh Mehta) or lacking in big-match experience (Nongdamba Naorem and Dibyendu Sarkar). 

TRAU

The good

The unknown factor. Newcomers to the I-League, they will need their enthusiasm to cope with the long treks to all parts of the country, with varying weather conditions through an Indian winter.

The bad

The foreigners are largely untested in Indian football -- defenders Isaac Isinde and Oguchi Uche come into the I-League from domestic leagues in Uganda and Nigeria, respectively, while Brazilian striker Marcel comes in from Erbil in the Iraqi top division. TRAU were also unimpressive in the Durand Cup, finishing bottom of their group after losing to both Indian Air Force and Gokulam Kerala.

What to expect

TRAU start with matches away to Chennai City, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. It will be a case of baptism by fire in the I-League, before they return to the Khuman Lumpak Stadium to play their first home games against Real Kashmir, Punjab FC and then a Manipur derby against NEROCA. Any lack of quality will be ruthlessly exposed.

Indian Arrows

The good

Watch out for defender Akash Mishra, midfielder Givson Singh, and Vikram Pratap Singh, who was exceptional while captaining the U-17 national team last year. Aman Chetri, who was one of the impressive wide players in Nicolai Adam's India U-16 team, will be leading the forwardline.

The bad

Taking on teams which will be physically stronger week in and week out could wreck a young side's morale, but they showed last season that they can hang it out with the best. Teams would have studied how best to get results against them, though, and that would make for some stern physical duels when the Arrows take the pitch.

What to expect

As if the strains of playing teams bigger (both physically and otherwise) than them won't be enough, the Arrows will also play their home games at the Tilak Maidan in Goa. This could make for some of the most energy-draining conditions, and coach Floyd Pinto's job a more difficult one. The bright side? They will have their entire roster get some playing time, hopefully more by choice than due to injuries.

Real Kashmir

The good

Real Kashmir almost made their debut season an unforgettable one last year, but one thing that stuck out was their inability to get goals on a regular basis. Coach David Robertson has tried to remedy that with the signing of English striker Kallum Higginbotham, and with the pace of Subhash Singh and the physicality of Gnohere Krizo, Real Kashmir could be more threatening when going forward this season.

The bad

Will Real Kashmir get to play home games at the TRC in Srinagar, given some of the political upheavals in the region in recent months? As of now, that is the plan, and other teams will also be better prepared for Real Kashmir's pragmatic tactics this time around. The contests could be a bit more even than last season, when many big teams appeared to have been caught off guard.

What to expect

Real Kashmir were not great to watch, but were exceptional in how functional their game was. Can they repeat that feat with a slightly changed roster of Indian players, all of whom might take time to adjust travelling in and out of the cold climes of their home ground?

Predictions

Winners - Gokulam Kerala

Relegated - NEROCA

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.