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ISL season preview: A stepping stone and a pit stop

ISL:-It’s party time again in the Hero Indian Super League with teams and stars coming back home after two years. After being in Goa the last two seasons, and locked in a ‘bubble’ owing to the global pandemic, the league is now back to its normal home-and-away format.

And what better place to start than in Kochi where Kerala Blasters, the side with the biggest fan base in the ISL, take on East Bengal at the Nehru Stadium on Friday. It will be a full house for sure.

The 11-team ISL will have a different look and feel this time. Instead of games every day, matches will now be played during weekends or closer to that, from Thursday to Sunday, which will make the season longer.

That should be a huge blessing for clubs.

“From a coach’s perspective, we have more time to practise, more time to recover in a longer season,” said Ivan Vukomanovic, the coach who helped Blasters finish runner-up last season, on Thursday.

“In a short tournament, there is a difference in the way you prepare. And the moment you start, there is no huge gap to train, to try out certain things. And it’s bad, because if you’re injured, then the season is done for you. When the season is long, there is a chance to recover and play again.”

And instead of four teams, for the first time, the top six will make the playoffs.

“The top six playoffs format is more interesting because more teams will be fighting till the end, to get the spot in the top six. Speaking about top four, last year in January, some teams knew they were out and they started playing casually. It was not the same playing against the same team in November-December when they were still going 100 per cent,” said Vukomanovic.

Hyderabad FC, which won its maiden ISL title last season, has retained its goalscoring machine Bartholomew Ogbeche and its core team while Mumbai City has strengthened the side with some very impressive names including Greg Stewart, last season’s ‘Hero of the League’ award winner. And Bengaluru has added Roy Krishna while Goa has grabbed Spaniard Alvaro Vazquez who played a big role in Blasters finishing runner-up last time.

“But in ISL, anything is possible….anybody can beat anybody,” said Vukomanovic.

“There will be some surprises… and teams which are able to manage the long season well, they can hope to achieve nice things.”

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