And then there were four: Meet Indian Super League's semi-finalists
The Indian Super League (ISL) reaches its business end with the two legs of semi-finals over the next week.
Here's all you all you need to know about the top four finishers.
Bengaluru FC [40 points]
Key players: Gurpreet Sandhu (goalkeeper), Juanan, John Johnson (defender), Sunil Chhetri, Miku (forwards)
Bengaluru topped the league stages with 13 wins, seven on the road, and only failed to score in two games all season. Coach Albert Roca has one of the best depths in his squad, with plenty of experienced Indian players capable of stepping in as and when needed, and he has rotated his players wisely over the last month. Their biggest asset is the Chhetri-Miku combination up front, who have contributed 24 of the 35 goals scored. Their 16 goals conceded are also the fewest of all teams. They are arguably the most potent team in the league from set pieces, with good variations off corners and free kicks.
If Bengaluru can be contained, then it is possible to extract needless fouls and cards from their players. One of the key components of their gameplay is central midfielder Dimas Delgado, and the key to success against this team could be denying him time and space. The best chance to crack them is to take a tie deep into the late stages of the return leg without too much damage done.
Chennaiyin FC [32 points]
Key players: Henrique Sereno (defender), Raphael Augusto, Dhanapal Ganesh (midfielders), Jeje Lalpekhlua (forward)
The Chennaiyin midfield has been an engine room in every sense of the word this season, with English coach John Gregory instilling a sense of discipline and calm. Augusto has worked well with Jaime Gavilan and Gregory Nelson to provide an ability to pressure the opposition, while Ganesh has been excellent at imposing himself physically. Despite his seven goals, Jeje has not struck his usual form as a goal poacher. They have still had 11 scorers for their 24 goals and are the only semi-finalist to have beaten Bengaluru in Bengaluru. Their one red card conceded is also the fewest among the four semi-finalists.
Chennaiyin under Marco Materazzi were a difficult team to beat at home, but that aura of invincibility has gone this season. Gregory's team have dropped 12 points in home games this season, and both FC Goa and Bengaluru have come to Chennai and taken away three points. Goa face them in the first leg at home, and with Chennaiyin's record in mind, would feel confident in their return fixture.
FC Goa [30 points]
Key players: Seriton Fernandes (defender), Edu Bedia (midfielder), Coro, Manuel Lanzarote (forwards)
Sergio Lobera's team have approached this season with the simple dictum of attack being the best form of defence. They have scored 42 goals in 18 games, with Coro scoring 18 of them and Lanzarote contributing 12. Goa have benefitted from the contribution of wingers like Mandar Rao Desai and Brandon Fernandes, and Moroccan Hugo Boumous has emerged in recent games as a midfielder with the ability to pry open defences with both passes and long-range shots. Goa are hitting some good form, having needed to win their final three games and doing them with scorelines of 4-0, 5-1 and 3-0.
Goa's attacking philosophy leaves them vulnerable at the back, with both full-backs Seriton and Narayan Das naturally attacking players. They are sorely missing the leadership of someone like Gregory Arnolin at the back, and they have also had their share of problems with goalkeeping. Naveen Kumar, who has done well in the last six matches with the only two clean sheets in Goa's campaign, will miss the first leg owing to a red card and Goa will hope for a solid performance from error-prone Laxmikant Kattimani.
FC Pune City [30 points]
Key players: Vishal Kaith (goalkeeper), Adil Khan (defender/midfielder), Marcelinho, Emiliano Alfaro (forwards)
When they get going, there are few teams as hard to contain as Pune, which should come as no surprise with Marcelinho and Alfaro in the ranks - both top scorers for their respective teams last season. Pune also have a competent Indian presence across the pitch, with goalkeeper Kaith often supported by Sarthak Golui and Gurtej Singh in defence, while Khan and Rohit Kumar have been instrumental in making their midfield a robust one.
Pune have their share of hotheads on the pitch, and Baljit Sahni and Marcelinho feature among three players to have been sent off this season. Coach Ranko Popovic will need to remind them that the semi-finals are essentially four quarters of 45 minutes each, and playoffs in past seasons have produced enough late drama that has changed the picture of the tie. Losing a player to a reckless challenge would be a big handicap, especially if a team is chasing the game.
Semi-final schedule (all matches kick off at 8 pm IST)
March 7: FC Pune City v Bengaluru FC, Pune
March 10: FC Goa v Chennaiyin FC, Goa
March 11: Bengaluru FC v FC Pune City, Bengaluru
March 13: Chennaiyin FC v FC Goa, Chennai