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New standard, more goals – an ISL season like no other

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The 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season has been a unique one for viewers at home. The coronavirus pandemic has had a big impact on football affairs and Indian football has also had its fair share of concerns.

In the case of ISL, the sixth season ended a week before India went into lockdown. Discussions focused on the organization of the seventh season of the competition. After much deliberation, it was decided that the tournament would be held in Goa.

Soon all teams kicked off their preseason after completing their quarantine process. After a short preseason which saw friendly matches being played out between ISL teams, the league finally started on November 20, 2020.

The performance of all clubs since the start of the season has been affected by the short preseason, life in the bio-bubble due to the pandemic and the lack of proper training for months during the lockout.

While some clubs have had to deal with fatigue in the form of recurring problems, others have seen their level of performance drop. Overall, the quality of football in ISL has suffered, through no fault of anyone in particular.

There have been a total of 93 goals scored in the 2020-2021 ISL season up to the 43rd game. This number of goals scored is the lowest in the past four seasons and the lowest in ISL history.

There have also been five scoreless draws so far this season before the league even reached its halfway point. The entire 2019-20 season saw six goalless draws, while the 2018-19 season saw a total of 10 goalless draws recorded.

Among the 11 teams, East Bengal had the shortest pre-season due to the formalities to be completed before entering ISL. The delay had a huge impact as the Reds and Golds started off with a seven-game winless streak that recently ended with their first win of the season against Odisha. Incidentally, their ATK rivals Mohun Bagan were one of the first teams to start their preseason and also retained the core of the ATK title-winning team – they are at the top of the standings.

The last six teams on the table as of January 5 have all had players with fitness issues this season and it’s all down to the lack of a proper preseason.

Equally important is the mental health of the players, not just this season, but always. But life inside a bio-bubble is difficult. They are footballers who enjoy spending time with their friends or relaxing at home with their family after a stressful game day. Instead, they are all locked in luxury hotels in Goa. It is a daunting task even for experienced players.

Arjun Jayaraj recently revealed that life inside the Biobubble was difficult before leaving Kerala Blasters. Gary Hooper had also mentioned that the whole experience was strange when we arrived.

As the weeks go by, players will start to adjust to the new normal, and as a result, the league could see more goals and a lot of exciting games.