The race for playoff spots in the 2022-23 season of the Indian Super League is heating up as the tournament enters its final stages, with just six games remaining in the calendar for most of the teams. Mumbai City are giving stiff competition to defending champions Hyderabad for the League Winners Shield at the top, with Manolo Marquez’s men faltering in recent weeks after a stellar start to the season.
Meanwhile, the resurgence of Bengaluru and Chennaiyin last weekend has made the contest for the remaining four playoff spots much more exciting than anticipated. As the Indian Super League enters Matchweek 16 of 22 today, here’s a look at how the race for playoff berths is shaping up:
Mumbai City Secure Qualification
Mumbai City continued their relentless march in the league on Saturday, securing a hard-fought 1-0 win over ATK Mohun Bagan. This victory extends their lead at the top of the table – with 36 points from 14 games, the Islanders are now four points ahead of their nearest competitor Hyderabad. With their victory over ATK, Mumbai have extended their winning streak in the Indian Super League to nine straight fixtures.
Des Buckingham’s aggressive tactics continue to deliver in the league, with the Islanders scoring a record 41 goals so far in the season – just 10 goals short of FC Goa’s all-time record. While the fixture against ATK Mohun Bagan saw just one goal, Mumbai scored 4 goals in each of their two earlier fixtures this month. With six more games to go over the next two months, the Islanders could easily break that record.
Of the remaining six games, only the encounter against Hyderabad in the first week of February could present a challenge to Des Buckingham’s men. If they manage to secure even a draw against Hyderabad, Mumbai City could end the season without a defeat to their tally, becoming the first team to go for an entire season without losing a single game.
Hyderabad Likely To Sail Through
Mumbai City’s dominance in the league would have secured them the league winners’ shield by this time if not for Hyderabad’s equally glorious form. Manolo Marquez has transformed the team since he took over the reins last year, leading the team to the trophy with limited resources. The defending champions were in phenomenal form throughout the first half of the season, with the Nizams losing just two games in November.
But injuries to Chinglensana Singh and Joao Victor along with a general slump in form among the team’s top performers now threaten to derail Hyderabad’s championship hopes. Manolo Marquez admitted the same after their 1-1 draw to Chennaiyin last week. The Spaniard has decided to approach the games one-by-one, with player availability remaining a key concern for the Nizams.
Despite dropping points last week, Hyderabad are likely to easily sail through to the playoffs. Their main concern remains the competition from the top, rather than from the bottom. The crucial fixture between Hyderabad and Mumbai in the first week of February could eventually determine which of the two teams will end the season at the top of the table.
The contest for the remaining four playoff spots spiced up last week, with the likes of Chennaiyin and Bengaluru staging a comeback into the race. While both Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan placed relatively well with 25 and 23 points, just six points stand between Odisha and Bengaluru in the fifth and eighth spots.
Odisha were once considered the dark horses of this season, but their relative inexperience in the league saw them drop points for three consecutive games. Even ATK Mohun Bagan have faltered in recent weeks, managing to win just two of their last five games.
Bengaluru and Chennaiyin – two of the most experienced and talent-rich teams in the Indian Super League – have all the resources they need to continue their resurgence. With six games to go, Bengaluru have a tough path ahead. They have to secure victories over the likes of ATK Mohun Bagan, FC Goa and Mumbai City. Chennaiyin, on the other hand, are better placed, with an extra game in hand and relatively easier fixtures. The battle for the four remaining playoff berths could see a six-way fight that will last into the final week of the tournament. The direction of the race will be evident tonight itself when Bengaluru take on Jamshedpur at the JRD Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur.
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