Some managers have tinkered with their starting line-ups often in the sixth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL). Different permutations and combinations were tried and tested by the managers in their search for the perfect mix.
We take a look at how often the managers experimented with the starting line-ups, to what extent and what drove them towards it.
Kerala Blasters manager Eelco Schattorie has often related his team’s poor form to the lack of liberty of choosing the same starting line-up often. He has repeated a line-up just twice this season and has made an average of 2.12 changes per game. However, the team did have several muscle injuries through the season with the likes of Ogbeche, Jairo Rodrigues, Mario Arques, Rahul KP all suffered injuries through the season.
Bartholomew Ogbeche, Jessel Carneiro, Raju Gaikwad and Moustapha Gning were among the undisputed starters. Messi Bouli too joined the group once he established himself with goals.
Unlike most ISL clubs, Schattorie found the need to shuffle between custodians Bilal Khan and TP Rehenesh. Both goalkeepers had a season to forget, and it was often a case of choosing the lesser of the two evils.
He also never seemed to find the best combination in midfield and playing Sahal Abdul Samad out of position did not help.
Mumbai City FC too repeated their line-up just twice this season and made an average of 2.18 changes per game. Yet they garnered seven points more than Kerala and were alive in the top-four race until their last game.
In Mumbai’s case, the defence required tinkering until the right combination was found. The manager provided Souvik Chakrabarti and Sarthak Golui with equal opportunities at the right-back position. Jorge Costa also had to experiment in midfield, with Paulo Machado suffering a slight slump in the opening games and later on suffering an injury. He also handed Sourav Das some minutes, and the youngster justified the boss’ trust in him.
They also had several injuries with Raynier Fernandes, Modou Sougou, Amine Chermitie, Serge Kevyn, Mato Grgic were all missing games in between.
Odisha FC should serve as another great example of how constant changes in the line-up did not prevent the side from putting on a top show. They averaged two changes per game and repeated line-ups only after they found the best combination. Most importantly, they had to endure star striker Aridane Santana's injury at a time when he was in fine form. Manuel Onwu did a great job but Josep Gombau's side fell just short of making the play-offs.
Champions ATK had to deal with a few injuries at the back. John Johnson was not available for most of the season. Victor Mongil was, hence roped in as a replacement. But Agustin Garcia left the club due to personal reasons towards the end of the campaign. Anas Edathodika was also injured at the start.
However, ATK just could not find a set back-line for the entire season. Upfront, they were spoilt for choices, with each of Edu Garcia, David Williams and Roy Krishna vying for two spots in attack.
An injury to Williams made Antonio Habas’ task of choosing the line-up easier, but he eventually found a way to incorporate all three. ATK repeated a line-up four times in 21 games and made a single change seven times. Their average of 1.9 changes per game is heavily skewed because they made seven changes in an inconsequential game against Bengaluru FC and had to make six in the next game to revert.
It’s noteworthy that Habas found a way to not disturb the line-up a lot, despite facing injury problems.
Bengaluru FC and FC Goa are two sides that tinkered with their line-ups as little as possible. They recorded an average of 1.74 and 1.35 changes per game respectively. Carles Cuadrat was challenged to find the optimum strike combination. The low average can also be attributed to the fact that he has played several players such as Ashique Kuruniyan, Nishu Kumar, Rahul Bheke and Harmanjot Khabra in multiple positions throughout the season.
Sergio Lobera hardly experimented with the winning formula. The only challenge he faced was when Ferran Corominas was injured. However, Goa were forced to make massive changes in the most crucial match of their season – the first leg of the play-off tie against Chennaiyin FC.
Although, it would be fair to claim that not tinkering with the winning combination played a major role in ensuring that the Gaurs finished on top of the ISL table.
Finalists Chennaiyin FC repeated a line-up six times in 21 games, but most importantly, they had to deal with a managerial change. Owen Coyle did not play around experimenting with the attack. The only major change he brought about in the starting line-up was shifting Edwin Sydney Vanspaul from full-back to midfield.
The average of just 1.95 changes per game despite making nine changes in their final league game and reverting to the best combination in the play-off is evidence to this.
The correlation between the number of changes in line-up in every game and the number of points on board lies in finding the right combination. The top four teams found the combination earlier than most others. While most of the bottom-placed sides struggled to do so, but Costa proved that it is possible to get the results despite changing the line-up often.