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Who are favourites & dark horses to win the ISL-7 title?

The seventh season of the Indian Super League is set to kick-off on Friday, November 20 with 11 teams fighting for the title in Goa.

And the question like every season is, who are the favourites, who the dark horses, who are expected to do badly? Who will finally lift the ISL-7 title?

Defending champions ATK Mohun Bagan, who won the trophy last season as ATK, are now even stronger having been able to keep their manager Antonio Lopez Habas besides key players like goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya, defenders Pritam Kotal and Sumit Rathi, midfielders Prabir Das, Edu Garcia, Carl McHugh and Javi Hernandez, striker Roy Krishna and David Williams.

And also bringing in defenders Tiri, Sandesh Jhingan and Subhasish Bose besides midfielder Brad Inman, which makes the squad even stronger as they know how to win matches and trophies.

Looking at the challengers, one has to mention Bengaluru FC, who on paper don’t look as strong as last season but their attack has been reinforced by the signing of Brazilian striker Cleiton Silva and Norwegian forward Kristian Opseth.

The Blues will once again look at captain Sunil Chhetri with young Suresh Singh Wangjam expected to build on his breakthrough ISL campaign in the last season.

Mumbai City FC go into the ISL-7 season with City Football Group as new co-owners and their ambitions has grown which has seen Sergio Lobera joining as head coach besides the signing of Mourtada Fall, Mandar Rao Dessai, Ahmed Jahouh, Hugo Boumous, Hernán Santana, Adam le Fondre, Bartholomew Ogbeche and Farukh Choudhary.

The new look Islanders aim to finally win the ISL trophy, the question being if the squad can fulfil its potential, an issue which has bogged them over the years.

FC Goa were forced to go into the new season not only with a new head coach in young Juan Ferrando but also a new set of foreigners besides signing some exciting young Indian talent like Redeem Tlang, Phrangki Buam, Makan Chote, and Ishan Pandita.

It will be interesting to see, if FC Goa can continue with their attacking brand of football with Ferran Corominas, Hugo Boumous and Jackichand Singh not in their team, but Juan Ferrando stands for the same brand of football as Sergio Lobera used to and FC Goa has been able to recreate itself, which if it does, can again make the playoffs.

The surprise package could be newcomers SC East Bengal both in a positive or negative sense as head coach Robbie Fowler and his squad assembled as the last one in Goa.

Kerala Blasters have brought in tactician Kibu Vicuna, who will hope he can change the fortunes of the Blasters as they have rebuild their squad with an aim to reach the semifinals.

They lost Sandesh Jhingan but got players like Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Albino Gomes, Nishu Kumar, Sandeep Singh, Denechandra Meitei, Givson Singh and returning Nongdamba Naorem. And then quality foreigners in Costa Nhamoinesu, Bakary Kone, Facundo Pereyra, Vicente Gómez, Jordan Murray and Gary Hooper.

East Bengal did not have an ISL franchise structure before and had to build everyone within days. If the coaching staff can get the squad to work, it could be a good season for the red and gold, then they have made impressive foreign signings in Danny Fox, Scott Neville, Anthony Pilkington, Matti Steinmann, Jacques Maghoma, and Aaron Amadi-Holloway.

But also quality Indian players have been signed in Sankar Roy, Debjit Majumder, Narayan Das, Mohammed Irshad, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Mohammed Rafique, Bikash Jairu, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh besides others.

The surprise package could be newcomers SC East Bengal both in a positive or negative sense as head coach Robbie Fowler and his squad assembled as the last one in Goa.

East Bengal did not have an ISL franchise structure before and had to build everyone within days. If the coaching staff can get the squad to work, it could be a good season for the red and gold, then they have made impressive foreign signings in Danny Fox, Scott Neville, Anthony Pilkington, Matti Steinmann, Jacques Maghoma, and Aaron Amadi-Holloway.

But also quality Indian players have been signed in Sankar Roy, Debjit Majumder, Narayan Das, Mohammed Irshad, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Mohammed Rafique, Bikash Jairu, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh besides others.

But again, SC East Bengal are an unknown entity and open their ISL history with a Kolkata derby against champions ATK Mohun Bagan. Anything is possible.

One of the dark horses could be Odisha FC, who under experienced manager Stuart Baxter has assembled a young, talented squad who will be led by experienced pro Steven Taylor with the foreigners in Jacob Tratt, Cole Alexander, Marcelinho, Diego Mauricio, and Manuel Onwu having to show the way to the Indian youngsters.

Jamshedpur FC will hope under new head coach Owen Coyle they will finally be able to make it to the ISL semifinals. Coyle came in mid-season last term and took Chennaiyin FC to the ISL final, which the Tata’s will hope he can recreate with the Steelmen.

They have retained some talent and brought in reinforcements, but will it be enough? Only time will tell…

Last season, Hyderabad FC as newcomers had a bad campaign. They started their preparations early but lost their head coach Albert Roca to FC Barcelona and brought in Manuel Marquez Roca as his replacement.

They have made Indian signings like Subrata Pal, Chinglensana Singh, Hitesh Sharma, Halicharan Narzary and Rohit Danu besides foreign talent like Lluis Sastre, Joao Victor, Francisco Sandaza and Aridane Santana.

But will their new signings help them to challenge the top four?

Another surprise package could be Chennaiyin FC under head coach Csaba László, who not only lost their manager Owen Coyle and top striker Nerijus Valskis. Their new squad cannot be judged, so lets wait and see how they play.

And finally there is NorthEast United FC under new manager Gerard Nus, whose only aim can be to avoid finishing last in the 11 team table despite making some interesting signings.

Read my earlier article: Heading into an exciting ISL-7 in times of a pandemic!

Now the pre-season is finally over, now ISL-7 is set to kick-off. Let’s Football!

About Arunava Chaudhuri

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