ISL: Business-as-usual Jeje, quick Keane
At 42 matches, the ISL is still less than halfway through its league stages for 2017-18, the first extended season of what is now a 10-team league. Interesting storylines and themes have emerged through these games, and here are some from the first week of January.
JEJE LALPEKHLUA, the all-time highest Indian scorer in ISL history, has continued on his merry way. His six goals (as of now) are the most by an Indian player this season, taking his all-time tally for Chennaiyin FC to 19. Jeje scored a brace in a 2-2 home draw against Delhi Dynamos over the weekend. His form, together with that of his India teammates Sunil Chhetri and Balwant Singh (both with five goals apiece), bodes well for the national team in a year in which they must look to maintain their form following a calendar year when they were unbeaten across 13 matches in international football, while breaking into the top 100 of the FIFA rankings for the first time in two decades.
FORMER CHELSEA MANAGER Avram Grant, who took the Premier League side to the 2008 Champions League final before they lost on penalties to Manchester United, has been roped in as technical adviser to NorthEast United (NEUFC) following the sacking of Portuguese head coach Joao de Deus. Grant's appointment appeared to have an immediate impact on NEUFC's morale, as they beat FC Goa in their first match of 2018 to register just their second win of the season.
HE MAY BE 37 AND MIGHT BE WANTING TO RETURN TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE, but Robbie Keane has been an instant hit after starting the season for ATK a little later than expected due to an injury. Keane only has two goals, including the fastest of the ISL season this year inside four minutes against FC Goa, but has made ATK look sharper in recent matches after a sluggish start to the season. The goal against Goa came in a bizarre match that kicked off on January 3 and finished past midnight, following a delay in the Goan team's flight to Kolkata due to technical snags, and was followed by Keane's customised celebration, where he has replaced his usual marksman's pose after a half-somersault with a more sedate namaste.
AMONG INDIAN PLAYERS, the adage 'old is gold' would appear to apply most to Bengaluru FC's Sunil Chhetri and Jamshedpur FC's Subrata Pal -- teammates in the early years of their career with Mohun Bagan about a decade and a half ago. Chhetri has registered 28 shots, the most of any player, with 21 of them on target -- both the most for any player this season. He scored his fifth goal of the season with the winner on Sunday against ATK at home. Goalkeeper Pal has had the most clean sheets, pulling off five of them in eight starts, where he has conceded just four goals. The average minutes per goals conceded of 180 makes him a comfortable frontrunner for the Golden Glove this season, though his only game in the new year saw him concede two.
BENGALURU FC could well be the entertainers of the season. The only team yet to be involved in a draw this season, they maintained that record with a 1-0 win at home against ATK to kick off 2018. Their nine matches have produced six wins and three defeats, and their all-or-nothing approach has led to two home defeats and three victories on the road. With 18 goals scored, they join Pune City in being the second-most prolific team in the league, where FC Goa have led the way with 20 goals. By pointing this stat out, we have just put the mockers on them, haven't we?