Mumbai City FC clinched ISL 2022-23 League Winners Shield on Saturday, after a 5-3 victory over FC Goa at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa. Des Buckingham’s men accumulated 46 points from 18 games by the end of the week – the highest ever in the history of the Indian Super League. With just two more games to go before the start of the playoffs, Mumbai City could finish their season undefeated – a rare feat in any football league around the world.
Defending champions Hyderabad had to settle for a second-place finish in the season, securing a direct semi-final berth with a 1-0 win over ATK Mohun Bagan last night.
With just two weeks of action left in the Indian Super League, here are all the important updates from the Indian Super League:
Mumbai’s Inevitable Victory
Mumbai City’s steady transformation from a middling club to league leaders this season has been exceptional, to say the least. The transformation has been championed by Des Buckingham, the 38-year-old English manager who took over the reins at Mumbai last season. Early hints of Mumbai City’s potential were visible when they became the most successful Indian club in the history of the AFC Champions League last year, with the manager receiving praise for his fearless approach on the global stage.
Des Buckingham was a busy man during the summer transfer window, with Mumbai City bringing in players to suit every role in the team. Greg Stewart, Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Alberto Noguera, Royston Griffiths and Lallianzuala Chhangte joined the Islanders, with all of the key players given enough freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. The results are clear: Jorge Diaz and Lallianzuala Chhangte became the top scorers for Mumbai City, sharing 21 goals between them.
While it can be argued that an improvement in the defensive unit is the leading factor in Mumbai City’s domination during the current season, the attacking unit has levelled up as well. The Islanders have scored a whopping 53 goals so far during the season, surpassing FC Goa’s tally of 51 goals during the 2019-20 season with two more fixtures remaining. Strategic rotation of the squad, tactical substitutions, managing player fatigue and patience have all aided in Mumbai City’s brilliant run during the season. With two encounters remaining during the calendar, Des Buckingham will be intent on entering the Indian Super League playoffs unbeaten.
Hyderabad Falter But Secure Semi-final Berth
Bartholomew Ogbeche’s goal in the 86th minute secured Hyderabad FC’s second-place finish in the 2022-23 season of the Indian Super League. The defending champions once gave a tough fight to Mumbai City for the Shield but were unable to keep up with the juggernaut that was Des Buckingham’s men. A surprise 3-1 defeat at the hands of Odisha last week sealed their fate in the season, leaving them seven points behind the league leaders.
The differences between Hyderabad and Mumbai City during the season are very few, with fixtures between both sides ending in stalemates both times. Both sides have been attacking powerhouses while maintaining discipline at the back. But the Nizams have failed to score in crucial games and have averaged less than two goals a game during the season. Both their losses in November were by a one-goal margin, and two stalemates against Mumbai City did not help their cause either.
With a direct semi-final berth now secure, Manolo Marquez will be keen to rest his key players and keep them fit for the playoffs. While they failed to conquer the shield, Hyderabad are still the favourites to win the ISL Trophy and would give it their all if they face Mumbai City for the third time this season in the final.
With Mumbai City and Hyderabad booking their berths in the semi-finals, the focus will shift to the race for the remaining three playoff spots. With just two games to go for each team, three teams are eliminated from contention already – with East Bengal, Jamshedpur and NorthEast United continuing their miserable form during the season.
Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan have the best chances of qualifying among the remaining teams. Just one draw is enough for the Tuskers to clinch a playoff berth, and they would be looking at a third-place finish if they win at least one game. Kerala’s fixture against ATK Mohun Bagan on Saturday is likely to decide who will finish third in the season.
ATK Mohun Bagan’s poor form in the ISL continued yesterday, with the Mariners winning just one of their last five fixtures. With Bengaluru breathing down their necks, the Mariners will hope that their final game against arch-rivals East Bengal will take them through to the playoffs.
Bengaluru’s chances depend on how they fare against FC Goa in their final game of the season, as a win against Mumbai City would need a miracle from the likes of Sunil Chhetri. Both Bengaluru and Mumbai would need four points – a win and a draw – from the remaining two games to secure their qualification. Any other scenario would force a tie-breaker, with h2h results and goal difference determining the final standings.
As it stands, Odisha FC are inching closer and closer to a playoff berth. A surprise 3-1 victory over Hyderabad kept their hopes alive during the season, and their two remaining fixtures are against weak sides – NorthEast United followed by Jamshedpur. If Odisha manage to win both their fixtures or even one, they will stay in contention for the playoff spot.
The next two weeks of the Indian Super League will be action-packed, with every game affecting the fate of all five teams still in contention for playoff berths.
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