ISL playoff race goes down to the wire

Chennai: With the five-month-long Indian Super league season 9 finally reached its intriguing final-week league fixtures with six teams battling it out with each other for the top four spots in order to play the semi-finals.

The ISL, having been accorded the status of India’s top division this season onwards, there is a bigger prize at stake now, as the club that finishes on top at the end of the League stage gets a direct entry into the group stage of the AFC Champions League, a first for Indian clubs.

Still, unlike other major competitions where the team finishing on the top spot get their hands on the trophy, ISL format demands a two-legged semi-final clash between the top four with the winners advancing to the final.

Hence, six teams – FC Goa, ATK, Bengaluru FC, Mumbai City FC, Chennaiyin FC and Odisha FC are in an intense battle to get into the top four. While FC Goa, ATK and Bengaluru have already qualified, still their places are not cemented. FC Goa and ATK are vying for the top slot. Meanwhile, Chennaiyin FC and Odisha FC are pushing hard to seal the remaining one slot which is now currently with Mumbai City FC’s hold. Here is a look at what the six teams need to do in its final week.

FC GOA (36 Points)

Remaining Game: Jamshedpur FC vs FC Goa on 19 February

Goa will have wrapped the regular season well and their trip to Jamshedpur on Wednesday could be a potential history in the making. The Gaurs need only one point (37 points) to confirm themselves as Hero ISL League winners and gain entry into the AFC Champions League. However, their top spot could be in danger if they lose to Jamshedpur and ATK win their game against Bengaluru. Both teams will be tied on 36 points each but the Kolkata side will edge ahead in lieu of a better head-to-head record.

ATK (33 Points)

Remaining Game: Bengaluru FC vs ATK on 22 February

To end top, ATK will need Jamshedpur FC to first beat FC Goa and then themselves defeat Bengaluru. In this case, both FC Goa and ATK will be tied on 36 points but the two-time ISL champions have a better head-to-head tally this season. If FC Goa even pick up a point in Jamshedpur, ATK will finish second regardless of their result against Bengaluru.

BENGALURU FC (29 Points)

Remaining Game: Bengaluru FC vs ATK on 22 February

The defending champions can cement the third spot they currently occupy with a win against ATK, taking them to 32 points as Chennaiyin FC, with two games in hand can rise up to 31 points.
If Mumbai City defeats Chennaiyin and Bengaluru fall to ATK, the Islanders will topple Sunil Chhetri & Co. to third spot despite having the same number of points 29; as Jorge Costa’s men did the double on Bengaluru. Else, just one point is sufficient for Bengaluru in that regard to stay third. If they lose, Bengaluru could end with the same number of points with Chennaiyin (29 points) but a better head-to-head will see them remain safe on third.

MUMBAI CITY (26 Points)

Remaining Game: Mumbai City vs Chennaiyin FC on 21 February

It is pretty simple for Mumbai City. Win (29 points) against Chennaiyin and seal a playoff spot. If Bengaluru loses the following day, Mumbai City would end up third as well. However, if they draw
(27 points) against Chennaiyin, the Islanders would need a favour from NorthEast United in the final league game of the season as well as from Kerala Blasters against Odisha FC. If Odisha wins, their league double will ensure Mumbai City are eliminated. If not, and in case of a draw in Guwahati, both Chennaiyin and Mumbai City will be locked down on 27 points each. Superior goal difference in the league will come into play and in that case, Mumbai City will drop out.

CHENNAIYIN FC (25 Points)

Remaining Games: Mumbai City vs Chennaiyin FC on 21 February and NorthEast United FC vs Chennaiyin FC on 25 February

After their dramatic turnaround, Chennaiyin sits pretty with a couple of games in hand. However, Chennaiyin cannot afford to lose in Mumbai but a minimum of two points from two games combined with Odisha FC dropping points will do it for Owen Coyle’s men. If Chennaiyin win both their games (31 points) and Bengaluru drop points against ATK, the two-time Hero ISL
champions could also finish third.

ODISHA FC (24 Points)

Remaining Game: Odisha FC vs Kerala Blasters FC on 23 February

Before Odisha take the field in the penultimate league game of the season, they would need Mumbai City and Chennaiyin to draw and then win against Blasters themselves. Both Mumbai City and Odisha then end up on 27 points each. Chennaiyin will then need to drop points at NorthEast United and with each of Mumbai City, Chennaiyin and Odisha tied on 27 points, the
Bhubaneswar side will make the top four given their better head-to-head record with both sides.

NT Bureau