Bouquets and brickbats: The hits and flops of ISL 2021

ISL 2021: It’s time for the season-ender awards from the recently concluded ISL campaign. Over the 115 matches, there were some hits and misses on the field.

Sergio Lobera, head coach of Mumbai City FC, stuck to what he knows best — free-flowing attacking football studded with long balls from the creative duo of Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous.   -  Sportzpics / ISL

Hits

Sergio Lobera: He was shunted out last season and came back to exact revenge in the best possible manner — by clinching the ISL League Winners Shield and the ISL trophy for Mumbai City FC.

Having formed the team’s spine with players he chose from FC Goa, Lobera went about building a champion side at a club that had made it to the semifinals only twice. His acquisitions from FC Goa and the other foreign signings were almost tailor-made and the technical support from the City Football Group — the majority stakeholders in the club — added a sprinkle of magic.

READ | ISL 2021 learnings: Lobera’s Plan B sizzles, Bengaluru’s old guard struggles, Hyderabad dazzles

The Spaniard stuck to what he knows best — free-flowing attacking football studded with long balls from the creative duo of Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous. Lobera backed his Indian players such as Bipin Singh, Amey Ranawade and Vignesh Dakshinamurthy and delegated them in positions best suited for their playing style. He even threw on substitute goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa in the penalty shootout against FC Goa. This was the first time Phurba stepped on to the pitch during an ISL game — that is the kind of risk Lobera took and it paid off.

Sergio Lobera won the ISL League Winners Shield and the ISL trophy in his first season with Mumbai City FC. - ISL/Sportzpics

 

His win over ATK Mohun Bagan’s Antonio Habas in the final will serve as a phenomenal morale booster, for the wise old Habas is the League’s most successful manager with a 2-0 record in finals. Lobera got the better of Habas thrice this season, and each time it was an emphatic victory. ‘Lobera-ball’ is here, and it is here to stay.

PODCAST - The merger between ATK and Mohun Bagan for ISL 2020-21 seemed like a match made in heaven, but fans didn't look pleased. Our reporters Shyam Vasudevan, Aashin Prasad and Amitabha Das Sharma delve into the reasons behind fans' displeasure and the raging hashtag #RemoveATK in the latest episode of 'The Full Time Show'.

 

Roy Krishna: The reality that Fijian powerhouse Roy Krishna missed the Golden Boot award by the narrowest of margins for the second season running (FC Goa’s Igor Angulo won since he had a lower minutes per goal record) gives you a picture of what a consistent player he is. The defence begins with him darting at the defenders inside their half, while the attacks end with him knocking the ball into the net. Krishna was the joint top-scorer of the season this time too with 14 goals. But he added a new dimension to his game as he also crafted eight assists, a joint highest in the league. His consistent all-round display won him the Golden Globe award, but he will be gutted to not take home the ISL title.

ATK Mohun Bagan's Roy Krishna was the side's top scorer and assits provider in the 2020-21 Indian Super League season. - ISL/SPORTZPICS   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

 

Hyderabad FC’s youngsters: Hyderabad FC’s quintet of Akash Mishra, Asish Rai, Mohammed Yasir, Hitesh Sharma and Liston Colaco enjoyed a phenomenal campaign. Coach Manolo Marquez put his faith in the young lads and they delivered in abundance. Whether it was Akash, who played every minute of the season, haggling defenders twice his size or Asish bombing down the flanks as a wing-back, the youngsters came to the fore. Yasir and Hitesh featured in almost every game and their zeal and pace were integral in maintaining Hyderabad FC’s high-octane pressing form of football. Liston set tongues wagging with his fancy footwork and his terrific bursts of pace which complemented Aridane Santana and Joel Chianese very well in attack.

The youngsters have duly been rewarded for their consistent performances as four of the five have been called up to the national team for the upcoming friendlies against Oman and UAE.

Flops

CFC’s misfiring attackers: "Footballing gods weren’t with us,” was how Chennaiyin FC coach Csaba Laszlo described his team’s struggles in front of goal. But some of the blame must be shared by his attackers as well. Chennaiyin was among the best chance-creators in the division but was let down by its woeful finishing. And naturally, the strikers and attackers came under the spotlight. Jakub Sylvestr did everything right except when it came to taking his chances. So was the case with Lallianzuala Chhangte. The duo was on the end of numerous close-range opportunities but somehow squandered them.

CFC's Jakub Sylvestr endured a torrid season in front of goal. - ISL/Sportzpics

 

Kerala Blasters’ CB partnership: Costa Nhamoinesu and Bakary Kone were two of the most experienced centre-back signings in the league. There was real excitement surrounding Kerala Blasters chances this season but the pair didn’t live up to expectations. Often in matches, Blasters were left to make up for the defensive errors as they conceded 36 goals — second-worst record — and finished a poor 10th.

Kerala Blasters’ most experienced centre-back signings Costa Nhamoinesu (front) and Bakary Kone failed to live up to the expectations.   -  Sportzpics / ISL

Baxter sees red: The controversial tag of the season was reserved for Robbie Fowler for more than the halfway point through the season until Stuart Baxter went a step further. The Odisha FC coach used a rape analogy to express his frustrations over the refereeing decisions which went against his team. The club apologised for his comments and sacked the Scotsman the next day. He offered an explanation through South African website Soccer Laduma saying ‘this is not who I am. My comments, though wholly inappropriate and misplaced, were also out of context.”