Indian Super League: The Preview
The Indian Super League will return again in 2021-22 for the eighth season of the revamped top-flight league in the country. Our Indian data editorial team preview the campaign with some of the need-to-know insights.
The eighth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) will kick-off on November 19 with ATK Mohun Bagan against Kerala Blasters. Just like last year, the matches will take place at neutral venues in Goa.
Last season, Mumbai City FC became just the second team after Bengaluru FC (2018-19) to top the league table and follow it up with the ISL title within the same season. They stood tall against ATKMB in the final, beating them 2-1 to seal their maiden ISL crown.
Big Guns, But Few Shots Fired
Mumbai and ATKMB will continue to be strong title contenders even during this edition of the Indian Super League. While the Islanders won matches by dominating possession last season, the team from Kolkata relied on their defensive prowess to shut out teams, before delivering a stinging blow despite much attacking presence themselves.
ATKMB’s opening game of 2020-21 set the tone for the rest of their campaign. They managed only two shots on target and 32% possession in a dull 1-0 victory over Kerala Blasters, but more importantly stopped their opponents from attempting any shots on target at the other end.
Across 2020-21, only NorthEast United (59) faced fewer shots on target ahead of the playoffs than ATKMB (60), while only Hyderabad (17.5) had a lower expected goals total faced than they did (18.5).
However, it was a similar story in attack for the season finalists. ATKMB attempted shots worth just 20.1 xG themselves, which was only more than SC East Bengal (17.7).
While the Mariners largely depended on their defence and performances of their star striker Roy Krishna, Mumbai City played the most sought-after style of football in the current era, imbued by the ethos of ‘the longer your team holds possession, the less opportunity it presents for the other team to score’. During the league stages Mumbai registered 211 sequences of 10+ passes, the most by a team that season, while only allowing 65 such sequences to be registered against them.
During the end of the 2020-21 season, ATKMB’s manager Antonio Habas knew the team had to bolster their midfield to stop the juggernauts from Maharashtra. Possession along with a tight defence would be their key to the title this season and what better way to do it than bring in one of the best midfielders in the league to your team: Hugo Boumous. The Moroccan star created 31 chances including eight assists last season and has the most assists in the last two seasons of the ISL (16).
While ATKMB strengthened their midfield, Mumbai City added firepower to their attack in former FC Goa striker Igor Angulo. A lot of was spoken about Angulo’s age when he joined Goa last season. He was 36 and considered to be at the end of his career. The Spaniard proved all his doubters wrong by scoring 14 goals (top scoring alongside Roy Krishna) during the 2020-21 campaign, while he outscored his xG total by nearly six goals – the best differential between goals and xG last season. Angulo will prove to be a lethal force in Mumbai’s attack during the upcoming season.
While Mumbai chose to improve their attack, ATK Mohun Bagan arguably have one of the best strikers the league has ever seen in Roy Krishna. During his first season in the ISL, Krishna scored 15 goals leading his side at the time, ATK, to the title. The Fijian footballer has been involved in 43 goals in his two seasons in the ISL, 13 more than any other player.
Krishna started last season with a goal in each of his first four appearances, despite attempting just five shots on target in these games. His ability to score goals from tricky situations and from few opportunities, makes him one of the most dangerous players in the Indian top-flight.
His creativity was inflated slightly last season, however. He finished with eight assists including his playoff appearances – a league high tally – this despite an expected assists total of only 1.12, which was bettered by 47 different players. Unlike metrics such as assists or chances created, xA isn’t reliant on the recipient of a pass getting a shot away, so it shows how he has been able to create situations for teammates in positions which give them the best chance of finding the net.
Amrinder Proves a Point
For a long time, the goalkeeping position in India’s national team had remained unchallenged, belonging to Bengaluru FC’s shot-stopper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Last year, however, Mumbai City’s goalkeeper Amrinder Singh proved to the selectors he was equally good or even better than Gurpreet.
Both keepers have registered 29 clean sheets in the ISL so far, sharing the competition record with Arindam Bhattacharja. For the upcoming season, Amrinder has sworn his allegiance to ATK Mohun Bagan, who probably now have the best striker, midfielder and goalkeeper coupled with an already cohesive defensive unit.
Looking at the quality of shots faced on target (xGOT) last season, the Mumbai goalkeeper proved he was the best. Despite facing shots that you’d expect the average goalkeeper to concede 22 goals from (22.1), he conceded just 16 times excluding own goals and penalties, preventing a league-high 6.1 goals.
While goals prevented is an intuitive measure of goalkeeper performance, the inevitable rebuttal here is that goalkeepers who face more shots have the opportunity to ‘prevent’ more goals. To allow for a fair comparison, we can standardise for the number of shots each keeper faced by looking at their goals prevented rate. Goals prevented rate is the number of goals that a goalkeeper was expected to concede as a proportion of the number of goals they actually conceded.
Amrinder Singh’s goals prevented rate was 1.38 in 2020-21, which was the league’s best, just ahead of the man he’s replaced at his new club. Bhattacharja’s rate was 1.35 last season, before he moved to SC East Bengal in September.
Chhetri Eyes Record
At 37, Sunil Chhetri is in his 20th year as a professional footballer and has already notched several records for clubs he has represented as well as being the leading all-time scorer for India.
He was the first Indian to score a hat-trick in the ISL during the 2015 edition when his then-club Mumbai City beat NorthEast United. The Bengaluru FC captain currently has 47 goals in the league, one fewer than former FC Goa striker Ferran Corominas (48). Now that Spaniard is not part of the league, Chettri should easily surpass Coro’s record as the leading goal scorer in ISL.
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Follow our Indian Super League coverage this season over on OptaJeev.