ISL wrap: Captain Fantastic saves BFC, Hyderabad welcome Albert Roca
A new year, a new decade, but some predictable stories. ESPN brings you the best of the week from the 2019-20 ISL season.
Star of the week
In the league's first match of 2020, Bengaluru FC were extremely poor against a Goa side that passed them off the park for the vast majority of the game. Yet, BFC had Sunil Chhetri, and that made all the difference. Two chances, two masterful finishes, three points.
In Bengaluru's second match, they were middling-to-alright against an average Jamshedpur side but once again, their captain was around to ensure the three points went nowhere else.
In both matches, Chhetri's quality was accompanied by an intensity that no one else on the pitch could match - chasing lost causes, pressing constantly, sprinting up and down his wing like he had the legs of a man half his age. As we enter a new decade, Chhetri remains -- by far -- the best footballer in the country.
In a season where they have rarely been able to get out of second gear, Bengaluru are just two points off Goa at the top, and that is mostly thanks to their captain.
Flop of the week
A 5-1 humbling at the hands of a (prior to that match) struggling Kerala Blasters and a 3-1 defeat at home to Chennaiyin FC meant Phil Brown had guided Hyderabad FC to a sum total of five points from twelve games, his record reading 1W, 2D, 9L.
Their performances have been just as bad as their abysmal results suggest, and it was no surprise when, on Saturday, the club announced that they had parted ways with the Englishman.
Performance of the week
ATK 0 - 1 Kerala Blasters
Maligned throughout the season - and in most cases justifiably so - Eelco Schattorie had a point or three to prove coming into the year. When his side thrashed Hyderabad 5-1, they were helped by a hapless Laxmikant Kattimani in the opposition goal, but there were no such caveats attached to their 1-0 win away at the home of the favourites, ATK.
Widely expected to be swept off the park, Kerala more than held their own and were well worth the three points. Halicharan Narzary's goal was sublime, the defending was stout, and there was a greater cohesion to the passing than we've seen all season.
With a sense of continuity finally coming into their squad and playing XI, a top-four finish is no longer the impossible mission it once seemed.
Off-the-pitch move of the week
Albert Roca to Hyderabad FC
Roca's Bengaluru FC was one of the best sides in India's recent domestic history, so it is natural that there is excitement now that he has been announced as Hyderabad's new head coach. He could not have asked for a more different challenge, though, and that adds to the anticipation.
Rant of the week
Staff behaviour on the touchline
As the season wears on, the antics on the touchline reach new lows. Yes, the refereeing is, at times, questionable and yes, it can be frustrating, but professionals can surely react better to such adverse situations?
What makes these antics particularly bad is that it's never limited to just the coach - everyone on the bench chips in with the histrionics and we rarely see a game go by without some sort of bench-clearing mini-brawl. Most recently, during ATK's game against Kerala Blasters, video replays showed a member of Antonio Habas' staff kicking out at the Blasters assistant coach Ishfaq Ahmed who then had to be restrained from retaliating.
This simply has to stop, and the onus for that is very much on the clubs.
Tweet of the week
The ONLY thing they need is to have 11 players for 3-4 games together and not EVERY week have to make changes (injuries) from the 1st game of the of the league. That is the key factor. NOTHING ELSE. Not one week, NOT ONE WEEK I know 2 days before the match who I can start!!! https://t.co/Uksaz27KdC- Eelco Schattorie (@ESchattorie) January 1, 2020
A league that puts out an article about how a team can improve their performance that essentially says everyone must work harder. A coach who then responds to said article with a rant about injuries. Ah, ISL. Never change.
Pleasant surprise of the week
The re-appearance of Gaurav Mukhi
Having been caught for age-fraud after a sensational debut goal against Bengaluru FC last season, Gaurav Mukhi slipped off the radar and it felt, for a while, that we wouldn't be seeing him at the top level again. While it would have been easy for Jamshedpur to allow him to be become a scapegoat and take the fall for an incredibly flawed system, it is admirable that they haven't taken the easy way out.
Having served his punishment, Mukhi was reintegrated into the system. He started with the reserves, before being given a start against Bengaluru this past week where he showed glimpses of the talent that, hopefully, will shape his story from now on.