Ahead of the start of the second season of the Indian Super League, we comprehensively take a look at each team, their marquee and local players and chances of success this year.
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Last season: Champions
Manager: Antonio Lopez Habas
The charismatic Spaniard, who previously managed Valencia, led the team to the title last year and will be expected to repeat that performance.
Marquee player: Helder Postiga
The experienced ex-Tottenham forward replaces Luis Garcia as Atletico’s icon player and netted a hat-trick for the club in their opening pre-season game.
Indian player to watch: Rino Anto
One of the best right-backs in the country, the Bengaluru FC player brings unique versatility and pace and has played an instrumental role for his team in the I-League over the past two seasons.
How they’ll fare: On paper, the defending champions still have one of the best outfits in the league, despite losing key players in the off-season.
Their other big signing this year has been Canadian forward Iain Hume, the former Leicester man who joined after a single season at Kerala Blasters.
South African Sameehg Doutie and Spaniards Jaime Gavilan Martinez, Valdo and Javi Lara all feature in the squad along with former Real Madrid midfielder Borja Fernandez and Ofentse Nato.
They have had an extensive pre-season in Spain, winning three fixtures and back home Atletico despatched Aryan FC 4-2 to round off their preparations in style.
A side rich in quality, matched only by Goa. They should easily make the final four once again, but the Goans should have just enough fire-power to clinch the title.
Last season: Second
Manager: Peter Taylor
The Sachin Tendulkar co-owned side has replaced one Englishman for another as experienced former England manager Peter Taylor comes in for David James.
Marquee player: Carlos Marchena
The former Valencia and Villarreal defender is a World Cup, European Championship and La Liga winner and he will be Taylor’s leader on the pitch.
— Star Sports Football (@StarFootball) September 10, 2015
Indian player to watch: Sandesh Jhingan
An unknown quantity until last year, he burst onto the scene with stellar performances in the inaugural ISL, which won him the Emerging Player of the Season and AIFF Emerging Player of the Year 2014 awards.
How they’ll fare: Kerala conceded just 11 goals in 14 games during the group stage last season and have strengthened at the back with the additions of former Newcastle centre-back Peter Ramage, Marcus Williams and Bruno Perone.
However, one of their biggest concerns is the forward line, which relied heavily on the departed Hume last season.
Taylor has had to revamp his attack and retained none of last season’s strike force. Chris Dagnall and former Arsenal man Sanchez Watt are the foreign presence up top, while local lad Mohammed Rafi and Indian striker Manandeep Singh complete the forward line.
Kerala were the only team not to have a pre-season abroad and played five friendlies in India where they won four and drew another.
Marchena has already picked up an injury and with a long season ahead, the fitness of the Indian players and their star man will pose a serious question over their chances.
Last season: Semi-finals
Brazil legend Zico returns to Goa after an eventful first season, where he guided the team to the semis despite a slow start to the campaign.
Marquee player: Lucio
The 2002 World Cup winner with Brazil will bolster Goa’s defence and should be the ideal man to lead the young Indian players on the field.
Indian player to watch: Romeo Fernandes
The 22-year-old was one of the star performers of the ISL last season and will be out to prove he isn’t a one season wonder.
How they’ll fare: Zico has left no stone unturned in pursuit of making Goa a title-winning side, adding a distinct Brazilian flavour to the squad. There are seven players from his South American homeland and a further five support staff members also hailing from Brazil.
Indian central midfield stars Pranoy Halder and Bikramjit Singh plus wingers Mandar Rao Desai and Romeo Fernandes will all be keen to continue where they left off last term following a sluggish pre-season.
— Evo (@WorldOfEvo) October 2, 2015
Lots of quality in all areas of the field and with Zico at the helm, they have all the ingredients to become champions.
Last season: Semi-finals
Manager: Marco Materazzi
The Italian is an immensely popular man with fans after a career defined by passion and a no-nonsense style of play. Materazzi is well respected by his players and looked tactically solid last season.
Marquee player: Elano
The Brazilian took the ISL by storm in his first year with some breath-taking performances and scores goals when it matters most.
Indian player to watch: Thoi Singh
The 24-year-old midfielder is renowned for his energetic displays and ball-winning qualities as well as his handy goalscoring knack.
How they’ll fare: Easily the best group stage side in 2014, they will hope for a bit more luck this time around. Materazzi has retained the core of last year’s squad while the arrival of Fikru Teffera from Atletico Kolkata has bolstered their forward line.
Former Italy international Manuele Blasi will also add quality and experience to the midfield but defence may be a concern, where they depend on ageing Indian Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Frenchman Bernard Mendy and youngster Dhanachandra Singh.
Their Indian contingent failed to make an impact last season and they were over-dependent on Elano.
Last season: Fifth
Marquee player-coach: Roberto Carlos
The Brazilian is easily the biggest name in the ISL this season and has come out of retirement to offer his services on the pitch as well as in the dugout. Carlos replaces Alessandro del Piero as the icon of the team and Dutchman Harm van Veldhoven as coach.
Indian player to watch: Robin Singh
One of the strongest Indian players, he can play anywhere along the front line and is fresh from an impressive performance against Iran in the World Cup qualifiers.
How they’ll fare: After missing out on the semi-finals last time around, Carlos’ clout has helped Delhi acquire star men Florent Malouda, John Arne Riise and youngster Adil Nabi.
— CNN-IBN News (@ibnlive) October 1, 2015
Delhi arguably have one of the strongest attacks in the ISL but their defence looks fragile, as was evident in pre-season, where they conceded nine goals in three matches.
They have a very strong attack and midfield but defensively they look perilously fragile.
Last season: Sixth
Coach: David Platt
Assistant to Roberto Mancini when Manchester City won the Premier League in 2011-12, Platt has previously managed Sampdoria, Nottingham Forrest and the England U-21 side.
Marquee player: Adrian Mutu
He has been out of action for a year, but the former Chelsea and Juventus star claims he is ready for the league and is targeting a Euro 2016 return with Romania by using the ISL as a platform.
Indian player to watch: Jackichand Singh
Named after martial arts hero Jackie Chan, winger Singh was named the I-League’s player of the season last year.
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) September 27, 2015
How they’ll fare: Like Delhi, Pune too have a new-look squad. Platt has taken over the reins from Italian Franco Colomba and overseen some stellar foreign signings. Mutu joins captain Didier Zokora, former Turkey international Tuncay Sanli and Englishman Roger Johnson in bringing a wealth of experience.
They have also spent heavily during pre-season on acquiring the services of star Indian players Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Jackichand Singh.
Prediction: Losing finalists
They have enough experience and quality to reach the semis and then the showpiece. However, fitness will be an issue with their Indian players on the back of a long season and key imports all at the wrong end of 30, so they will narrowly miss out.
Last season: Seventh
Marquee player-coach: Nicolas Anelka
The Frenchman had a disappointing first season as a player and returns to the franchise with boots in hand and his coaching hat on.
Indian player to watch: Sunil Chhetri
The India captain and his country’s highest goalscorer could not be a part of the inaugural edition as his club, Bengaluru FC, did not release its players.
How they’ll fare: Much was expected of Mumbai City’s star-studded line-up last year but they lacked creativity and were one of the most unimpressive units. Mumbai do not start as favourites this year but have the quality to rout opposition on their day.
Former Celtic defender Darren O’Dea joings the club while ex-Portsmouth striker Frederic Piquionne also comes in, as does former PSG man Selim Benachour.
Might do slightly better but still don’t look good enough to make the last-four. Absence of key Indians like Chhetri and goalkeeper Subrata Pal during internationals will hurt them.
North East United
Last season: Eighth
Coach: César Farías
The former Venezuela coach was appointed by the club after choosing not to renew former New Zealand manager Ricki Herbert’s contract.
Marquee player: Simao
The Portuguese winger brings guile and vital experience of playing in some of Europe’s top leagues.
Indian player to watch: Boithang Haokip
Haokip is regarded as one of India’s most talented players and his role in the centre of midfield will be crucial.
How they’ll fare: True to their name, they have continued to enforce the policy of recruiting Indian players from the North East region only, who are traditionally quick and technically proficient.
In addition, the franchise has retained seven players – including two foreigners – from last year and signed winger Seityasen Singh during the auctions.
French centre-half Cédric Hengbart, former Fulham poacher Diomansy Kamara, Ghanaian Francis Dadzie and River Plate youth product Nicolás Vélez join Simao as foreign stars.
Indian players are inexperienced, which might cost them in later stages of the tournament.
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