Just seven more matches are set to be played in the league stage of the ISL 2020-21 season and the race for the top four is heading for an exciting finish.
While ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC have already qualified for the playoffs, the battle for the remaining two spots is between FC Goa, Hyderabad FC and NorthEast United FC.
League leaders ATK Mohun Bagan could’ve sealed the top spot on Monday and with it, the AFC Champions League slot but Hyderabad FC denied them as their match ended in an entertaining 2-2 draw.
Bengaluru FC, counted among one of the favourites for playoffs before the season started, have failed to maintain a consistent run and their defeat against FC Goa on Sunday crushed their top-four hopes.
Jamshedpur FC, who were in the race before the match between Hyderabad and ATK MB, will also end up this season outside top four. A draw for Hyderabad meant they have 28 points from 19 matches, while Jamshedpur can only reach 27 if they win their final match against Bengaluru.
In the final week, matches involving ATK MB, Mumbai, FC Goa, Hyderabad FC and NorthEast United are ones to watch out for.
NorthEast United’s games against SC East Bengal and Kerala Blasters
For Khalid Jamil’s side, victories against East Bengal (23 Feb, Tuesday) and Blasters (26 Feb, Friday) will ensure their qualification to the playoffs. They are currently fifth on the table with 27 points to the new name.
In worst-case scenario, NorthEast should at least look at taking a minimum of two points from both matches. They can afford two draws and still finish in the top four but their fate will depend on the result of the match between FC Goa and Hyderabad.
Two defeats and NorthEast are out.
FC Goa vs Hyderabad FC on Sunday (28 Feb)
Both teams have played 19 matches. Manuel Marquez’s side are currently fourth on the table with 28 points while Goa are third with 30 points. If NorthEast suffer defeats in both their remaining matches then the result of FC Goa vs Hyderabad will not matter as both teams will end up in the top four.
If Hyderabad lose the match and end up at 28 along with NorthEast, then Marquez’s team will make the cut due to a better head-to-head record. Three points against Goa will guarantee their spot in the playoffs.
Goa can lose this match and still make it to the playoffs only if NorthEast don’t pick more than three points from the remaining two matches.
Mumbai City FC need to win against Odisha and ATK MB
Sergio Lobera’s Mumbai City FC are winless in the last three matches. The defeats against Bengaluru and Jamshedpur jeopardised their plans to end the league stage on top and thereby booking their spot in next year’s AFC Champions League.
After the loss against Jamshedpur, Lobera had some tough words for his team. “I think maybe it’s the worst game in the most important game of the season. For the first time, we don’t depend on us now. I am very disappointed today that we didn’t get the win,” he said in the post-match interview.
But there’s still hope for them.
Six points from two matches will take them to 41, one point more than ATK Mohun Bagan. Even a draw for Mumbai against Odisha on Wednesday (24 Feb) will see rivals ATK Mohun Bagan finishing the league on top.