ISL 2023-24: All To Play For Title And Sixth Playoff Spot As Race Goes Down The Wire


(MENAFN- IANS) Mumbai, April 4 (IANS) With Matchweek 20 getting over in the Indian Super League 2023-24, the stage is set for an exciting fight to the finish with League Winners Shield and 6th spot still up for grabs. The Matchweek 20 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 rounded off with East Bengal FC securing a thumping 4-2 victory over Kerala Blasters FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Wednesday night, to re-ignite their playoffs challenge.

Whilst Kerala Blasters FC became the fifth team to qualify for the ISL playoffs on Tuesday, Odisha FC gave a major boost to their charge for the League Shield title with a 3-1 win against Punjab FC.

Mohun Bagan Super Giant fell short with a 3-2 loss to Chennaiyin FC, whereas Mumbai City FC was flawless as ever with a 3-0 win against Hyderabad FC. The ISL action resumed post post-international break with gripping draws in the Bengaluru FC-Odisha FC and Jamshedpur FC-Kerala Blasters FC fixtures respectively.

On that note, let's assess the prospects of the five teams that are vying for the sixth playoff position currently -- Chennaiyin FC, East Bengal FC, Bengaluru FC, Jamshedpur FC, and Punjab FC.

There are four teams currently edging for the top-placed finish, with Mumbai City FC (44), Odisha FC (39), Mohun Bagan Super Giant (39), and FC Goa (36) aiming for the League Winners Shield.

A lot of how this race pans out will depend on the result of the match between Mumbai City FC and Odisha FC at the home of the former on April 8. A win will help the Islanders run away with the title convincingly, whereas a similar outcome for Odisha FC will enable them to bridge their current five-point gap with Mumbai City FC.

Interestingly, the Petr Kratky-coached side faces Odisha FC and then the Mohun Bagan Super Giant in their remaining two games. The dynamics are such that they have to drop points in both those games for the likes of the Juggernauts, the Mariners, and the Gaurs to have a chance to displace them from the first place in the standings.

All eyes on top coaches

The spotlight will be on Carles Cuadrat and Owen Coyle with East Bengal FC and Chennaiyin FC encountering critical contests in the wake of their playoff qualification chances this season.

East Bengal FC host Bengaluru FC on April 7 and the Blues have the worst away record in ISL 2023-24, failing to win even once in their 10 games on the road. East Bengal FC have not maximised their home advantage either, losing four times in the 10 matches that they have hosted.

However, the Red & Gold Brigade have shown a tendency to cede grip over proceedings after getting an early foot ahead, having lost 16 points from winning positions this season. Bengaluru FC, however, have won only six points from losing positions, suggesting that a match of equals is on the cards here.

Chennaiyin FC are placed 10th with 21 points from 19 games but have a definite chance of becoming the sixth team to make it to the playoffs with their matches against Jamshedpur FC and NorthEast United FC in Matchweek 21. With 61.6% accuracy in the final third, the Marina Machans have won 71% of the games in which they have scored the first goal.

The Red Miners and the Highlanders, their opponents for this week, have lost 50% and 56% of the games that they concede first, which suggests that the going wouldn't be easy even if Coyle & Co. draw first blood in this encounter.

Big ask for Jamshedpur FC

The brief positivity period that Jamshedpur FC endured under Khalid Jamil has been undone with their three-game-long winless run at present. They have six points to play for still, and a congested mid-table ensures that they have to bring their A-game to the table against FC Goa on April 9.

Jamshedpur FC, too, are prone to surrendering advantageous positions, having lost 14 points from winning positions so far. The Red Miners tend to find their goal-scoring groove late into the games, netting 64% of the time in the second half of their matches in this campaign.

Interestingly, FC Goa have given away the largest share of their goals amongst all teams in the second half, i.e. 67%. Will Jamshedpur FC manage to peg the Gaurs back as the game enters its dying embers?

Punjab FC face Mohun Bagan

The ISL debutants must be credited for getting themselves within touching distance of a playoff qualification after overcoming several challenges in the first half of the campaign.

Punjab FC have earned 21 points from 20 games, but they won't be in a situation to afford any slip-ups when they encounter the Mariners on April 6.

Mohun Bagan Super Giant have recorded admirable numbers of multiple offensive fronts, i.e. shooting accuracy (51.8%), shot conversion (18%), opposition half-passing (71.5%), and final third passing (64.5%).

They have the second-best away record in the league, having bagged 22 points from nine games, and it's important to take that in context given that this fixture will be hosted by Punjab FC in New Delhi. Having dropped eight points out of a possible 15 in their last five games, the odds are tilting in favour of the Mariners for now.

However, Chennaiyin FC's encouraging 3-2 win against Mohun Bagan Super Giant showed that all results are possible fair and square given the intensely competitive spirit that the ISL has embraced lately.

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