The sixth season of Indian Super League (ISL) kicked off to plenty of fanfare and excitement in Kochi with a game between Kerala Blasters and ATK. Blasters put on a spirited second-half show to come back from behind and win the game against a star-studded ATK.
Five rounds of games later, the ISL has gone into its first international break. The two-week break, which would usually be seen as affecting the momentum of teams, will be a welcome rest-period for the players, due to the injuries that have taken the centre-stage at the start of the season this year.
Kerala Blasters seems to be the most affected team, with injuries to Mario Arques, Jairo Rodriguez, Sandesh Jhingan and Gianni Zuiverloon hampering their performances. The four players, along with the absence of Bart Ogbeche who had food poisoning and Messi Bouli who suffered a concussion, left Blasters severely short of quality on the field as they registered a goalless draw against Odisha FC at home to make it four points in as many games. Odisha FC also suffered in that match, having had to take their star striker Aridane Santana off the field after a collision with Messi.
Some of these injuries are long-term, like that of Jhingan who will miss most of the season due to his ACL tear. The others, even if they are frustrating knocks, have had an impact in not allowing the teams to settle down. Bobo, Rafael Gomez and Giles Barnes have all been out for Hyderabad FC, making life difficult for Phil Brown.
The most heartbreaking loss is that of Anwar Ali who had to take medical leave at Mumbai City, The youngster was diagnosed with a heart problem which will keep him away from the field for some time. Islanders' star man Modou Sougou, who nearly beat Ferran Corominas to the Golden Boot last season, has started only one match so far as he works his way towards full match fitness. They had two more casualties during their game against Blasters in Kochi, with Mato Grgic and Paulo Machado picking up knocks.
Two-time champions ATK, FC Goa and Jamshedpur FC are the only teams whose starts have not been impacted by injuries. ATK lost Dario VIdosic to an injury in the pre-season but still has a strong squad and with the likes of Roy Krishna and David Williams in top form, the Kolkata-based club is atop the table.
Sergio Lobera picked eight Indian players in their season opener, a 3-0 win against Chennaiyin, due to injuries to key foreign players but their replacements stepped up to ensure that absence was not felt.
Jamshedpur's foreign signings have done well, especially midfielder Piti and striker Sergio Castel and while they are currently fourth in the standings, Antonio Iriondo's team seems to be in control of their destiny. NorthEast United may not have a long list of injured players to deal with but their marquee signing Asamoah Gyan, who has not looked fully fit since his arrival, pulled his groin in their last match and Robert Jarni will be hoping to see the Ghanaian fully fit soon after the league resumes.
Defending champions Bengaluru FC's start has been the most surprising, with Cares Cuadrat's boys picking up three draws in a row before finally managing their first win against Chennaiyin in their fourth match. Albert Serran seemed to have recovered from an injury and started a game but then had to leave the field on a stretcher.
It shouldn't be a coincidence that the win also marked a goalscoring return of Erik Paartalu who took the field after an eight-month lay-off. His return adds a much-needed balance in midfield and could see Bengaluru take off after the international break.