The 12th edition of the I-League will begin on October 26. This season will see 11 teams vie for the title with the arrival of Real Kashmir FC .
Ahead of the league-opener, here's our pick of the biggest as well as the most promising players who will feature in the 2018-19 edition of the I-League.
Hitova Ayemi (Minerva Punjab)
Defending I-League champion Minerva Punjab FC roped in Nagaland's young sensation, Hitova Ayemi, in an attempt to bolster its attack. The club signed Ayemi from Fateh Hyderabad, a team that plays in the 2nd division I-League.
Ayemi, 20, played for DSK Shivajians' junior team in 2016 before making his senior team debut with Fateh Hyderabad. The young striker had a stellar start to his career when he netted six goals in his first six matches.
Ayemi's knack of scoring goals is something Minerva Punjab would look to make the most of and his ability to dribble past the defenders with pace and guile will make him a difficult player to contain.
In a press release posted on Minerva's website, Ayemi said, "I am very lucky to have signed with the champions and I hope I do well here. I will have to because it is going to be very competitive. It won’t be a walk in the park but then, I’m used to it as anywhere we play, it’s always competitive."
Samuel Lalmuanpuia (Shillong Lajong)
Samuel Lalmuanpuia's association with Shillong Lajong goes back to 2015 — when he began his career with the Lajong's youth side in the Shillong Premier League. It was here that he showed glimpses of his potential and finished as the highest goal-scorer of the tournament.
In February 2016, he made his professional debut for the club against DSK Shivajians, where he played the entire first half. Over the past three seasons, Lalmuanpuia has played 42 matches in the I-League. He has scored seven and set up five goals.
Last season, Lalmuanpuia bagged the 'Best Emerging Player (U-22)' for his outstanding performances. Earlier this year, he became one of the youngest captains in I-League when the 20-year-old forward was handed the captain's armband for the first time. Shillong finished sixth last season and the youngster would aim to carry over his last season's performances into the new season.
Aser Pierrick Dipanda Dicka (Mohun Bagan)
Cameroonian Aser Dipanda Dicka was the highest scorer last season where he netted 13 of the club's 28 goals in the I-League. His attacking prowess could, however, ensure only a third-place finish for the Mariners. He made his I-league debut in 2015 with DSK Shivajians before his move to Shillong Lajong where he scored 11 goals in 17 matches.
His goal-scoring exploits over the last two seasons earned him the 'Best Striker' award in successive seasons. With 12 years of experience in the professional circuit, including stints with four different teams in Segunda Division B (the third level of the Spanish football league system), Dipanda Dicka provides striking prowess and a much-needed stability to the team's attack.
Katsumi Yusa (NEROCA FC)
NEROCA FC has been bolstered with the arrival of Japanese attacking midfielder Katsumi Yusa. Katsumi joined NEROCA after spending one year with East Bengal, where he scored six goals. He started his I-League career with Mohun Bagan in 2013 and over a span of three seasons with the club, the 30-year-old striker scored 17 goals in 78 appearances.
He won the I-league with Mohun Bagan in the 2014-15 season and captained the side to Federation Cup success in 2015/16. His maiden tryst with the Indian Super League came in 2016 when he joined NorthEast United on loan from Mohun Bagan. His only goal for the club came on debut against Kerala Blasters.
Katsumi's addition to the ranks will help NEROCA in its pursuit for the title this year. The club missed the top spot last season by just three points. Yusa's lightning fast pace on the flanks will certainly add a new dimension to its attack, which managed just 20 goals all season.
Johnny Acosta (East Bengal)
The Costa Rican centre-back was signed by East Bengal for a fee of 13.6 million INR this season. The 35-year-old has represented his nation 71 times and is a veteran of the sport. His experience and presence on the pitch are expected to have a major influence on the East Bengal players.
Having recently featured in all three of Costa Rica's games at the FIFA World Cup 2018, fans will be eager to see how he brings his international experience on the pitch this season.
Sony Norde (Mohun Bagan)
The 29-year-old winger was re-signed by Mohun Bagan this season. The Haitian was one of the most important players for Mohun Bagan before he picked up a knee injury and left the club in January this year. He scored 19 goals for Mohun Bagan between 2014 and 2017 and will be hoping to create a similar impact on his return.
The club has made the signing despite his long layoff after the operation to his knee and it will be intriguing to see if Norde can reproduce the same level of performance, as he has so often done in the past.
Subash Singh (NEROCA FC)
The Manipuri winger came to life since he signed for NEROCA FC in 2016, becoming one of the side's key players. He was also among the best players in the I-League last season. The 28-year-old was the explosive attacking outlet NEROCA often turned to in its debut season and he will be hoping to replicate his impressive form in the upcoming season. Always looking to maraud opponent defences, Subash could be an important attacking option for new manager Manuel Retamero Fraile.
Kalampreet Singh (East Bengal)
The 20-year-old from Punjab was outstanding for Minerva Punjab in its title-winning run. The young defender signed for East Bengal ahead of the new season and is expected to play a major role as it bids for a maiden I-League title. The full-back was not only rock-solid in defence but was also a potent attacking threat with his overlapping runs. Having played in all 18 games for Minerva Punjab last season, Kamalpreet has the potential to be a key player in the I-League and for the national team in the future.
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