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Football Reporting


ISL: Teams playing possession-based football have a longer waiting period

Counter-attack to the top of the table this season….

Are you a supporter of a club that tries to play a style that is heavily reliant on possession of the ball? If you are, then chances are that you also aren’t happy about the team’s start to the seventh season of the Indian Super League (ISL).

The line above may seem generic but there is a pattern present in the results from the first two and a half rounds of ISL 2020-21. 

The teams who are religiously focused on playing possession-based football are yet to find their feet this time around.

Mumbai City, Goa, Kerala Blasters, Odisha and East Bengal are teams who either have employed a head coach who is hell-bent on not deviating from his football philosophy with his team or have created an identity with the type of football they play. And all these teams are yet to showcase their best so far. 

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If there is one thing Sergio Lobera doesn’t like, it is going to a plan B. He loves his plan A and will attempt to stick to it no matter what – that much is clear from his three-year stint with Goa. Mumbai City, even with all the high-profile footballers in their squad, are yet to gel as a team and play the kind of football that their coach wants them to play. It is a system that takes time to learn and adapt to.


Kibu Vicuna perfected his Mohun Bagan team by playing in around 30 matches before the I-League season kicked off. As a result, his team enjoyed a title-winning season by going on a long unbeaten run after initially losing their first game. Vicuna also was famous in Kolkata for sticking to his philosophy and refusing to move away from his vision – and this is already evident at Kerala Blasters who have had loads of the ball without penetration in the final third which will only be achieved by playing more matches together. 

Lobera may have left Goa but the team’s vision more or less remains unchanged under new head coach Juan Ferrando. They registered a 1-1 draw against a defensive NorthEast United side which registered only 24.9 per cent possession – lowest by any team this season so far. Goa, like Bengaluru, Blasters, Odisha and East Bengal, are winless and like Blasters, they also have played three matches.

On the other hand, teams like ATK Mohun Bagan and NorthEast United are off to a good start. They spend less time working with the ball and are happy to sit back and counter-attack. Their focus is on keeping things tight at the back, which they have managed to pull off. Chennaiyin also aren’t all about possession – they look very direct under Csaba Laszlo this season, and that has benefitted the team. 

Hyderabad has been the only exception to this case study – while they haven’t been excellent, Manuel Marquez’ team has showcased an attractive blueprint of the football that they intend to play this season and has shown glimpses of their approach. Hyderabad have had possession but injuries to key foreign players has put them in a spot of bother. Interestingly, Hyderabad have scored just one goal in two games, a penalty. 

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They will look to make better use of their possession.

At least in the first few rounds, teams are bound to counter-attack their way to the top of the table due to short pre-season and the time coaches require to implement their more elaborate systems on their teams.

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