Kochi: Once again, the country is all set to usher in the Indian Super League (ISL) frenzy. The seventh edition of the cash-rich celebrity-endorsed league which has exposed Indian football to a new level of professionalism will get underway in Goa on November 20 (Friday).
The entire tournament will be played behind closed doors, across three venues in Goa, to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Each and every participant, including players, support staff, match officials, commentators, operations teams, ground staff, broadcast teams, hotel staff and security personnel, will be staying inside the bio-bubble throughout the tournament and have to follow strict protocols.
Blasters, ATK to get the ball rolling
Fixtures for the first 11 rounds, which consists of 55 matches, have already been announced. In the inaugural match, Kerala Blasters FC will take on ATK-Mohun Bagan. Kerala Blasters will have their home games at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim. Chennaiyin FC, Mumbai City FC, and Odisha FC will also play their home matches at the same venue.
New substitution rules
The teams will have three opportunities to make a total of five substitutions. The number of players on the bench too will be increased to nine from seven. The franchises were allowed to sign a maximum of seven foreign players with at least one player of AFC affiliated nationality. The number of overseas players allowed on the pitch at a time will be five.
This ISL season will feature 11 teams, the most in the league's history.
Kolkata heavyweights Mohun Bagan, the winners of the I-League last season, joined the ISL after merging with ATK. ATK-Mohun Bagan FC is the new name of the club.
Their city rivals East Bengal will be the ISL's 11th team. The club has been re-branded as SC East Bengal and will be coached by former England striker and Liverpool great Robbie Fowler.
With the addition of two champion clubs from the Mecca of Indian football, the ISL is expected to provide soccer aficionados with plenty of mouth-watering action.
The first Kolkata Derby in the ISL will be played at Tilak Maidan on November 27.
More teams, more action
The other nine teams in the fray are Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, Hyderabad FC, Jamshedpur FC, Kerala Blasters FC, Mumbai City FC, NorthEast United FC, and Odisha FC.
As the eleven teams will play home and away, there will be as many as 110 matches in the preliminary stage of the tournament - 20 more than last year. The two-legged semifinals and final will take the total number of encounters to 115.
Apart from former champions Bengaluru FC, all the other teams have changed their core team of players. Teams like Kerala Blasters and FC Goa are all set for the seventh season with a revamped squad and a new coach at the helm.
Unlike in the previous seasons, the franchises did not travel abroad to train or play friendlies due to the COVID-19 scare. The teams are currently playing friendlies with mixed squads against each other. Each side is allowed to play only five matches.
Fixtures for the opening gameweek:
Nov. 20 Kerala Blasters FC vs ATK-Mohun Bagan FC
Nov. 21 NorthEast United FC vs Mumbai City FC
Nov. 22 FC Goa vs Bengaluru FC
Nov 23 Odisha FC vs Hyderabad FC
Nov 24 Jamshedpur FC vs Chennaiyin FC
Nov 25 FC Goa vs Mumbai City FC
Nov. 26 Kerala Blasters FC vs NorthEast United FC
Nov. 27 ATK-Mohun Bagan vs SC East Bengal
(All matches start at 7.30 pm)