Leaders Jamshedpur face ATK test; rock-bottom Chennaiyin take on misfiring BFC
All the Indian Super League (ISL) teams have played three games each, and after a small break, the action resumes tonight in Hyderabad.
The next five games, which will see all 10 teams in action, are the last before the league takes an international break, where India are slated to play crucial World Cup qualifiers away against Afghanistan and Oman. Given that, what are the things worth looking out for from each of these contests?
November 6: Hyderabad FC v NorthEast United FC
Hyderabad FC could not have begun life in the ISL any worse, losing 5-0 and 3-1 away in their first two games. Against Kerala Blasters, they conceded an early goal and it seemed like the club's home debut would start the same way, before Marko Stankovic and Marcelinho, two of the top foreign players who starred last year for the club known then as FC Pune City, put them on the road to three points.
Their second home game is a tough one, with NorthEast United's late concession of a goal to FC Goa spoiling their chances of sharing top spot on the points table with Jamshedpur FC. NorthEast have been full of energy, and Ghana's World Cup star Asamoah Gyan is warming up to his Indian stint. Hyderabad will have to work really hard to prove the Kerala win, where the visitors actually out-shot them 18-10, wasn't a one-off.
November 7: Mumbai City FC v FC Goa
In just three games, FC Goa have confirmed what many believed to be true - this team begins as one of the clear favourites. Seiminlen Doungel's inclusion in the attacking line has enabled coach Sergio Lobera to employ Coro in a more withdrawn role, and that has allowed India international Manvir Singh to shine alongside Doungel, exemplified by a headed goal that helped snatch a point in their last match away to NorthEast.
However, former NorthEast man Doungel had been shown the red card moments before the equaliser in a 2-2 draw, and his absence in Mumbai might force Lobera to rejig his formation a bit, and possibly push Coro further up. Manvir has also featured regularly in Igor Stimac's India, and this could be his chance to show how he can best complement a ruthless goal machine like Coro with his contributions to build-up play.
It is also Goa's first match at the Mumbai Football Arena, since the final lost to Bengaluru FC last season. There are some new memories to create, which should worry Mumbai.
November 8: Kerala Blasters v Odisha FC
Odisha FC proved they are most than just the pretty, new face of the ISL in dismantling Mumbai 4-2 in their own den during their last game, earning their first points in the league. While Aridane Santana has been excellent up top, the work rate of young Indian players like Shubham Sarangi, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Vinit Rai and Nandha Kumar has stood out, too.
Most have played in Kochi before, but how they back the Mumbai performance up against a Kerala Blasters team that themselves haven't picked up a point since an impressive win against ATK on the opening night, should make for a fascinating contest.
November 9: ATK v Jamshedpur FC
Speaking of fascinating contests, there's also Roy Krishna-David Williams-Jayesh Rane against Sergio Castel-Farukh Choudhary-Aniket Jadhav. ATK and Jamshedpur have both played attractive football, and importantly they have been able to convert the flair and positive intent into goals.
Jamshedpur lead the table, but have only played at home thus far, and their first two matches were against the debutant clubs for the season. Their home game against champions Bengaluru suggested this team will always be keen on playing for three points, and when that philosophy collides with Antonio Habas' ATK, it could make for an open game full of goals.
November 10: Bengaluru FC v Chennaiyin FC
From those who score freely, to two teams struggling to find the back of the net.
The 2018 final rematch pits Carles Cuadrat's Bengaluru at home against John Gregory's Chennaiyin, and the optimist might look at Bengaluru's first three matches and say, at least they are one of only four teams yet to lose. Without the injured Erik Paartalu, though, the balance in the squad seems a bit off, and striker Manuel Onwu is taking his time to ease into the substantial boots left behind by Miku.
Chennaiyin's strikers, meanwhile, have missed chances galore, even those where scoring was the easier option. That said, they should have had an early penalty away to FC Goa when their opening match was still scoreless, and then the eventual 3-0 defeat could have looked like a different match. Perhaps a little bit of luck is all they need to get their campaign running.
This would be the last match ahead of Afghanistan and Oman, and with both teams sporting many names that feature regularly for the national team, Stimac will be hoping for a flawless performance from the international players in this one.