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ISL 2021-22 Playoff Predictions: Finding Order in Chaos

If the 2021-22 ISL season was a movie, it’d be some sort of weird hybrid comedic-horror-tragedy combination that viewers wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry at. This season has received a double dose of everything that the ISL is about – incredible goals, dubious defending and refereeing blunders, but the general unpredictability has been turned up even further. 

The league has provided its share of upsets in the past, but reducing a foreign player from the quota has made games far more chaotic and prone to defensive lapses with the result being that it’s really hard to tell when a team is playing good football or if they’re just good at accepting gifts. 

In the current state of the league, it’s quite difficult to make predictions and be confident about them because things are definitely going to change significantly. Teams are on trajectories that will lead to heavy under-performance or are getting results that they don’t fully “deserve.”

For example, how many more games will Sunil Chhetri’s goal drought continue and how much longer will BFC suffer as a result? How long will FC Goa stay in the bottom half of the league? Are Hyderabad FC and Jamshedpur FC genuine threats or are they being dragged forward by players on hot streaks? Are Odisha FC any good? Will ATK Mohun Bagan rediscover their winning mentality or is this the end of the road for Señor Habas? Can Chennaiyin FC go on yet another winning streak or will their lack of cutting edge hurt them again?

What is going on?

Expected Goals Created and Conceded: Comparison of 2021-22 ISL teams with their previous iterations (2017-2021)
Comparison of 2021-22 ISL teams with their previous iterations (2017-2021)

The above graph (interactive version) plots this season’s teams against their previous iterations to try and benchmark how chaotic this season has truly been. It’s still early in the season, so it’s not unexpected to see most teams on the outer edges of the graph. 

If you dig a little deeper, you’ll notice that the bottom right section is essentially the Champions Corner with teams in this section of the graph likely to qualify for the playoffs (most teams have made/won the final). So, it’s not surprising to see Mumbai City sitting comfortably in this section.

Jamshedpur are also in the Champions Corner and have been getting some very impressive results, largely thanks to the brilliant Greg Stewart. But as a team that’s over-performing at both ends of the pitch, the jury is still out on if they’re genuine playoff contenders or not. They’re almost 5 goals ahead of their xG created and we’re only 5 games into the season. Can they sustain their form?

Goa make an interesting contrast with Jamshedpur, so much so that the Gaurs are almost a polar opposite of the Red Miners. They’ve got some poor results, but recovered with a couple of good performances with decent underlying numbers. Overall, they’re still far behind their expectations in attack and defence, but they are on the trajectory to pull themselves back into the race. 

Hyderabad FC, Chennaiyin FC and ATK Mohun Bagan are looking to build successful teams with solid foundations at the back. ATKMB have struggled off late, but have shown how resilient they can be in the past. There’s just too much quality in that squad to not make the playoffs. But teams in their section of the graph can be very hit or miss as they don’t necessarily create enough at the attacking end to sustain themselves through periods of bad form or luck. 

Speaking of bad form, BFC are going through their worst spell in the history of the club in terms of results and performances. Their underlying numbers are not bad, but some poor finishing and amateur defending means that they’re performing way below their numbers suggest they should. They’ve got a good chance of recovering their season, but they need to go on a long winning run to do so.

For more information and to look through the numbers yourself, check out this thread.

Now, on to the good stuff.

Playoff Predictions

Indian Super League ISL 2021-22 - Playoff Qualification Chances
Indian Super League 2021-22 – Playoff Qualification Chances

There’s plenty to dissect and analyse in the above graph, but what nobody will disagree about is that Mumbai City are definitely going to be up there at the end of the season while SCEB undoubtedly will be nowhere near them. 

The main talking point will definitely be those 3rd & 4th playoff spots. Hyderabad have emerged as the strongest contenders for the playoffs alongside ATKMB. They’ve got a solid defensive structure and a deadly goalscorer up front, but the issue they could end up having is that Bart Ogbeche is going be their “only” source of regular goals. 

Jamshedpur and Chennaiyin seem to be heavily under-rated by the prediction model. They’re defensively strong, but their chance creation metrics are hovering around the league average. On the other hand, Goa look slightly over-rated. They have strong attacking numbers, but haven’t got convincing results yet due to their underwhelming defensive numbers.  

Odisha look like the weakest team in this pack. They’ve been heavily over-performing at both ends of the pitch and taking their squad depth and quality into consideration, this form is not something they will be able to maintain.

Essentially, something’s got to give here, will it be the Goan defense or the Chennaiyin/Jamshedpur attack? Can HFC find alternative goal-scorers or will ATKMB pull the biggest surprise and fail to make it to the post-season?

Indian Super League 2021-22 - Final Finish Probabilities
Indian Super League 2021-22 – Final Finish Probabilities


Normally, I put these predictions out after every team has played 4 games, but the chaotic nature of the league this year has meant that I had to wait a few games more before I felt confident enough with the results.

This is the 5th year that I’m putting out ISL predictions, and I’ve got 3/4 playoff qualifiers correct each season so far. This season is looking like it’s going to be tightest ISL season yet and the only thing I’m truly certain about is that there are going to be plenty of twists and turns on the road ahead. 

To follow Amrit’s work, visit our Analytics page and follow him on Twitter.

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