Will the absence of two key players affect the balance of a team and cause them to lose their momentum in the middle of the season despite having gotten off to a good start? Going by how Jamshedpur FC's fortunes have taken a turn recently, the answer would be a resounding yes.
After starting the season with two wins in a row, Antonio Iriondo's team sat at the top of the table comfortably and quickly became title contenders on the prediction list of many. Of course, it was and is still too early to predict which teams will finish in the top four but Jamshedpur looked like a solid candidate.
After eight matches, the Men of Steel have dropped to the fourth spot, with 13 points in the bag. Most notably, they have registered just one win from their last six matches. While they are only two points away from equalling the tally of the table-toppers, the kind of form they are in, accumulating draws, is what has prevented them from getting into the playoffs in the last two seasons. In fact, over the last two seasons, only Kerala Blasters have played out more stalemates than Jamshedpur FC - a damning stat for a top-four-chasing team.
Iriondo needs to turn the draws into wins and the sooner he manages to do it, the better their chances are this season. The biggest issue for them has been injuries to two of their most important players - Sergio Castel and Piti.
Castel, who missed the last two matches for the club after going off injured against NorthEast United, has five goals this season - only Roy Krishna has more. Piti has missed more minutes and recently returned to the team in their draw against Kerala Blasters in Kochi.
While Piti's return should boost the team's midfield, Iriondo may have to make do without Castel upfront. The team lacks a good replacement for the striker on loan from Atletico Madrid and in spite of Farukh Choudhary's rise in stature this season with his impressive displays, he needs a central figure to build attacks and outmuscle defenders.
There is also another blow that they have been dealt with - the potentially long-tern injury that infliential midfielder Noe Costa picked up.
Before the game against Blasters, Iriondo had said, "Maybe Piti and Sergio Castel were more important to our team than we thought. Probably another player will come in the squad for him and he will try to do his best. Hopefully, it will be enough. We cannot say what could have happened when they were in the team, but we are missing them a little bit. We need to learn how to play without them."
Jamshedpur FC need to convert the draws into wins and put some distance behind them and the teams below them.