The India and BFC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, after their final group stage fixture against Kerala Blaster, tweeted thanking the ‘fortress’ (Sree Kanteerava Stadium). He ended it with ##LeagueHotiToKyaHota #WeAreBFC.
Bengaluru FC fans were truly buzzing then. And why not. They had totally outplayed their opponents in every facet of the game. Also, became the first team to defeat all the teams in a single season. When they overcame Pune in the semi-finals with a 3-1 aggregate, it is set up for a mouth-watering clash between the southern rivals. However, the giant slayers Chennaiyin FC defeated Bengaluru at their ‘fortress’ and clinched their second title in ISL.
Electric atmosphere at the Fortress last night. We all could really get used to this! Also happy we kicked off Holi for our fans they way they would have liked it. Have a good festival, everyone. #LeagueHotiToKyaHota #WeAreBFC pic.twitter.com/OZzSosUjXP
— Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (@GurpreetGK) March 2, 2018
ISL- Is it a league?
This leads to an unending debate on the many vagaries of the ISL. Is it a league? Is it a tournament? If it is, in fact, a league, why is there a semi-final and final in place? Ambiguity has always been the face of ISL. It has never had a loss of face. It has been writhing, wriggling in ambiguity ever since its inception. The ISL, surely, does seem to think that taking away the knockout rounds will be cutting down on the thrill of crowning champions when it is all down to one match.
It surely does not take a cue from any of the leagues around the world. It surely doesn’t even take a pie even from their counterpart I-league where the last 3 seasons have been fiercely fought till the final whistle. However, do these differences really matter? We have a holistic view of the points table over the 4 seasons and what it implies if it does.
Changes In ISL
The first 3 seasons were an 8-team competition making it a 14 game tournament (or league) for each of the teams. In the 2017-18 season, Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC were the new entrants. This meant that every team had to play a further 4 matches than the earlier seasons making the tournament (or league) a little more voluminous.
The knock-out rounds remained the same. By virtue of finishing 1st, the top placed team get to play the 4th placed team in the league. Not sure if it, in any way, gives an upper hand in knock-out rounds. The 2nd and 3rd placed teams battle it out for a spot in the final. Both the semi-finals take place over two legs. One at home and one match being played away with no away goal rule. However, the away-goal advantage was brought in only in the 2017-18 edition. Another ‘Eh? What?’ moment in the ever-changing ISL.
Performance of Teams Throughout the 4 seasons
- Chennaiyin FC, the most successful team in the league, with 2 titles are rightly on top of the points per game over 4 seasons. Except for the 2nd season which saw them finish 7th of the 8 teams, they have been on top of all the pile in all the other seasons. Over the 60 games played across the seasons, they have amassed 92 points. They average a massive 1.53 points per game.
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) September 24, 2018
- FC Goa is second in the overall points. They are just 1 point short of the leaders Chennaiyin. Like Chennaiyin FC, except for a lacklustre season 3, they have always been in the top 4. They have not been able to go the distance yet, but their attacking prowess is all set to mount a strong title challenge this time around.
- Delhi Dynamos and Kerala Blasters are 3rd and 4th in the points per game. Both have had a very turbulent experience in the ISL. They have challenged for the title a couple of times and the other times, they have just been sluggish. Delhi Dynamos and Kerala Blasters average a lowly 1.33 and 1.32 respectively over these years.
- Atletico De Kolkata, surprisingly, rank 5th in this analysis. They average 1.3 points per game. Surely, for a team who has won the title a couple of times, this is remarkably low. Three 14-game seasons and an 18-game season. However, ATK hasn’t managed to breach the 20-point mark. Yet they are the champions of the league twice.
- Mumbai City FC is 6th in the overall points with 78 points over 4 seasons. Pune City finishes 1 point behind with 77. Mumbai have failed to make it to knock-out rounds all these years. Pune, however, has made it once. NEUFC come last in the overall points with 64 points from the 60 games they have played over all these seasons. NEUFC have more than a problem this time around to cope with.
- Debutants of the 2017-18 season, Bengaluru FC who made the switch from I-League were in cruise mode. A phenomenal 40 points in 18 games. They averaged 2.2 points per game. They won 13, drew 1 and lost 4 on their road to finals. The other debutants Jamshedpur FC finishes 5th in the table with an impressive 26 points from the 18 games.
If the points table over the seasons is anything to go by, it is that teams who have been around for all the seasons have averaged 1.5 or lesser which, in some ways, means teams tend to be more defensive in the ISL. However, Bengaluru FC was on the offensive right from the word go and proved they were on the right path to the title.
This year, with a longer season, teams will look to test their strength. Not to forget the 3 internationals breaks. This year will be a litmus test of sorts for the league, teams, managers and the players. A 6-month long slug-fest to get into the knock-out rounds and decide the winner based on the 3 matches in the knock-out as if to feel every point won over the last 18 fixtures was futile. All the 4 teams in the knock-out will have to start afresh to lift the coveted trophy.
It is true that the scenario would’ve been totally different without the knock-out rounds. Gurpreet had a point when he came up with the hashtag. If only footballers had a say in deciding the way things are run. If only the AIFF had a say in deciding the way ISL is run.