I-League 2019-20: Chennai City still the team to beat, Gokulam Kerala out to prove a point

It is a rare case that the focus is not on East Bengal or Mohun Bagan ahead of the season as two other teams have taken the limelight…

The 13th season of I-League will commence at 2 PM on Saturday, as Mohun Bagan make the trip to Aizawl for the opener. It will be followed by a game at Kozhikode, where Gokulam Kerala will host NEROCA FC. 

After going through several twists and turns, the new season of I-League makes promises that it has been making and successfully delivering over the last few years – one of ebullience and entertainment. Be it Aizawl’s magical title run three years ago, Minerva Punjab’s fight to the finish, Gokulam Kerala’s giant-killing or Chennai City’s football revolution last season, the former top-tier of Indian football has always been action-packed. It has also done well compared to the more glamorous, polished and professionally run Indian Super League in terms of attendance figures. The league may no longer be India’s top division but promises competitiveness and drama right till the end. 

The new season will be broadcast by DSport and produced by Instat football, which should be a step-up in terms of viewing quality. As for quality on the field, the teams have been scouting, recruiting and assembling their respective squads for months now, and two teams, in particular, look very strong on paper. 

Defending champions Chennai City, under Akbar Nawas, were a treat to the eyes last season and more of the same will be expected from the side led by 2018-19 Golden Boot winner Pedro Manzi. They have retained the core of their title-winning squad and have added well, considering there were a few key departures.

Nesto Gordillo and Micheal Soosairaj have left the club and experienced campaigner Katsumi Yusa has come into the squad. Yusa is the only non-Spaniard among their strong foreign contingent and with the presence of talented local lads, Chennai will hope to defend their title. 

Gokulam Kerala started their recruitment process towards the end of last season itself, despite the uncertainty regarding the future of the league. The Malabarians are determined to put on a good show this time around, after their first two seasons ended in disappointment. While they were the ‘giant-killers’ during the second half of 2017-18 season, the then Bino George-led side had to fight a relegation battle last season and having finished ninth, which was well below the expectations, they are out to prove a point this year. 

With Henry Kisekka and Marcus Joseph leading the line, there will be a lot of goals expected out of the Malabarians. Experienced defender Haroon Amiri’s presence at the back should bring the necessary experience to a backline that conceded silly goals last season. They will be without Arjun Jayaraj who joined Kerala Blasters in the summer but considering pre-season results and performances in Sheikh Kamal Club Cup and Durand Cup, Malabarians does not seem to miss the midfielder’s capabilities in midfield. 

The newly-promoted TRAU FC and David Robertson’s Real Kashmir are firm dark horses – they do not have the best teams on paper but possess enough talent to cause a few upsets and pull off a twist in the tale. Considering how I-League’s minnows have performed in recent seasons, there could easily be another surprise in store for the fans. With this league, you can never predict. 

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