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ISL 2021-22 Season Preview: New Rules, Favourites and Teams to Watch Out for

ISL

Bengaluru, November 17: As all roads lead to Goa for the eighth edition of Indian Super League (ISL), which is set to commence on November 19, there is a sense of de ja vu all over again.

Similar to previous season, three venues in the land of beaches - Fatorda Stadium (Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium) in Margao, Tilak Maidan in Vasco da Gama and GMC Athletic Stadium in Bambolin - will host the first phase of the ISL which runs till January 9.

Ever since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the dynamics of football have changed drastically, globally and especially in India.

The ISL organisers were lucky enough to complete the 2019-20 season, though the final was played without fans.

With empty stadiums becoming the new normal, it was decided to host the 2020-21 ISL season at a single venue. Gone was the home-and-away advantage, such an important factor in league football.

The 2020-21 season, held amidst raging COVID-19 pandemic in Goa, was completed without any incidents with Mumbai City FC winning their maiden title.

As Mumbai City FC and rest of the eleven teams - ATK Mohun Bagan, FC Goa, Chennaiyin FC, Bengaluru FC, Kerala Blasters, Northeast United FC, Odisha FC, Hyderabad FC, Jamshedpur FC and SC East Bengal return to Goa, there is a sense pf eerie calm and optimism all around.

EARLY WARNING

EARLY WARNING

FC Goa sounded an early warning to their rivals by clinching the season-opening Durand Cup, where they beat Kolkata giants Mohammedan Sporting in the final.

The Gaurs, who won the inaugural Super Cup and now the 130th edition of the oldest football tournament in Asia, have been ticking every box and an ISL crown is the only pending silverware.

Champions' jinx

Champions' jinx

No ISL club has defended the title and Mumbai City FC will be hoping to break this jinx this season and they made their intentions clear in the pre-season transfer window with some good signings.

ATK Mohun Bagan have been a formidable force (in both avatars) ever since the inception of the league. The champions of the inaugural edition of the ISL in 2013-14 have become much stronger following the merger with fellow Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan as they went on to win the league in the first season and finished runners-up to Mumbai City FC the next season.

SENTIMENTAL FAVOURITES

SENTIMENTAL FAVOURITES

When it comes to ISL and Indian football, Kerala Blasters have always been the sentimental favourites. The Blasters, who inarguably boast of the best fan base among ISL clubs have reached the finals twice, including in the inaugural edition, only to falter.

The star-studded Bengaluru FC led by the mercurial Sunil Chhetri, who fell from pedestal last season following a string of inconsistent performances, will be hoping to bounce back this season under new coach Marco Pezzaiuoli.

TEAM TO WATCH OUT FOR!

TEAM TO WATCH OUT FOR!

Bengaluru's southern rivals Chennaiyin FC, under new captain Anirudh Thapa and new coach Bozidar Bandovic is the team to watch out for this season, especially having spend big in the pre-season transfer market.

While Hyderabad, Jamshedpur, Odisha and Northeast have all made reinforcements to their squad, SC East Bengal, the marquee club from Kolkata, will he hoping to find their feet in ISL after an indifferent debut campaign last season.

NEW RULES

NEW RULES

Since the inception of the ISL in 2013-14, there has been a constant effort to innovate and focus more on Indian football. With this in mind, the number of foreign players has been limited to 4 in the starting 11 from this season in strict compliance with the AFC's club competition regulations.

Till last season the number of Indian players was stipulated to six and the new rule will see one extra Indian player on the field and a spot less for the foreign players. While the weekday 7.30 pm kick off remains intact, there is an additional 9.30 pm kick off for double headers on Saturday. There has also been an increase in prize money which is indeed a bonanza, considering an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

MISSING FANS

MISSING FANS

Despite all this, one thing the fans and aficionados of this beautiful game would miss is the presence of spectators from the stadiums. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has scaled down, the organisers are yet to take a call whether to allow the fans inside the stadiums.

The 130th edition of the Durand Cup started without fans initially before a limited number were allowed for the second semifinal and final. The triumph of FC Goa in front of some 24,000 fans showed that football is alive and kicking in India. It remains to be seen if the ISL organisers follow the path.

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Story first published: Wednesday, November 17, 2021, 9:19 [IST]
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