ISL defending champions Bengaluru and runners-up FC Goa, the two teams that stood out last season with their style of play, have managed to retain the core of their squads and should be the neutrals’ choices to go all the way
Kochi: There will be the usual favourites like Bengaluru FC and FC Goa, but as the sixth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) kicks off today (October 20) in Kochi, get ready for twists and turns.
Defending champions Bengaluru and runners-up FC Goa, the two teams that stood out last season with their style of play, have managed to retain the core of their squads and should be the neutrals’ choices to go all the way.
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There is no denying Bengaluru and Goa are strong contenders, but all teams have made clever moves in the market and the stage has been set for the 2019-20 ISL. No team made as many heads turn as much as ATK. The former champions have signed plenty of top-notch foreign players and look possibly the strongest on paper.
Chennaiyin FC, who finished at the bottom of the pool, have given themselves a new look and appeared hugely competitive during pre-season friendlies.
Also read: Match preview of Kerala Blasters vs ATK
Let’s look at the ‘favourites’, first. Bengaluru FC should head that list. The Blues have been able to identify areas that need improvement and have strengthened the team with two key signings — Ashique Kuruniyan and Raphael Augusto, both of whom have starred for their former teams in previous ISL seasons.
FC Goa have not added a single new foreigner to their roster and have retained six foreign players from last season, including ace defender Mourtada Fall, midfield maestro Ahmed Jahouh and Golden Boot winner Ferran Corominas. Add the talented Indian bunch consisting of Brandon Fernandes, Mandar Rao Dessai and Manvir Singh to the mix and they have a squad to go one step further than last season.
Last season saw 254 goals being scored by the 10 teams during the league stages and the upcoming season is set to be an even better goal-fest, with every team securing their attack with a reputed goal scorers. NorthEast United FC took many by surprise with the signing of Ghana international and former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan, who is as proven as there can be when it comes to scoring goals.
Kerala Blasters FC, who are on the back of two disappointing seasons, are banking on Bartholomew Ogbeche to solve their woes in front of goal. Only Goa's Ferran Corominas scored more goals than Ogbeche last season.
Mumbai City FC have a prolific scorer in their ranks in Modou Sougou who will be expected to pick up from where he left off last season.
New entrants Hyderabad FC and Odisha FC have managed to assemble a competitive squad in a short span of time.
Hyderabad has experienced campaigners such as Marcelinho and Marko Stankovic who know the league well and Odisha has a bunch of talented Indian and foreign players with the likes of Marcos Tebar and Xisco Hernandez offering the necessary creative spark.
The 2019-20 ISL will also host a few of the finest tactical brains on the sidelines. NorthEast United has Robert Jarni at the helm, replacing Eelco Schattorie who has joined Kerala Blasters.
ATK have welcomed back Antonio Habas under whom they lifted the trophy in 2014. Jamshedpur FC have roped in Spanish coach Antonio Iriondo who has more than 25 years of coaching experience in Spain.
The new season will also rekindle old rivalries and set up new ones, with key players of several teams having changed clubs in the summer.
Former Jamshedpur duo Sergio Cidoncha and Mario Arques will be seen in Kerala colours, Brazilian Raphael Augusto has left Chennaiyin FC to sign for Bengaluru and Kerala's darling Anas Edathodika will take the field for rivals ATK.
This will be a season with plenty to watch out for. There will be favourites, of course, but this season could be laced with surprises aplenty.
ISL at a glance
Total matches: 373
Total goals: 956
Top scoring team: FC Goa (154)
588 players of 67 different nationalities, including India, have played in the ISL so far
The spectator attendance for the past five years has been 7,056,825
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Last Updated 10:29 AM IST