The 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season has seen several young Indian players raise their level with consistent performances across four months and 100 league games. From the team we picked from the 2019-20 season, only two players – Mourtada Fall and Roy Krishna – have made the cut for the ongoing campaign.
Newly crowned league winner Mumbai City FC has three representatives, and the much-improved Hyderabad FC has provided three Indian performers to the XI. Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh had his best ISL campaign yet with nine clean sheets to his name and pulled off key saves this season to shut the opposition teams out. After conceding just five goals in the first 13 matches, Amrinder and Mumbai conceded 12 goals in five outings that seemed to derail the Islanders’ bid for the title. But Amrinder managed two big clean sheets against ATK Mohun Bagan, which in the end were crucial to Mumbai finishing top of the table.
Amrinder’s teammate and centre-back Mourtada Fall has been a reliable rock in defence who has paved the way for Mumbai’s success this season. Fall has been the leader at the back and has also chipped in with key goals (three) with his aerial presence, with the Senegalese opened the scoring in the all-important win over ATK Mohun Bagan in the final league game.
Hyderabad FC’s Chinglensana Singh has been the best Indian centre-back this season and has been a revelation at the back. After having struggled to break through at FC Goa in his three seasons there, Singh has been entrusted with a regular starting berth by head coach Manolo Marquez. The 24-year-old has recorded the most number of passes for an Indian centre-back and has committed just nine fouls in 18 appearances. Hyderabad’s Akash Mishra (19-years-old) and Asish Rai (22) have thrilled the league with their energetic displays as attacking fullbacks. The duo has the most number of passes for full-backs and features in the top five for interceptions made in the division. Akash has been the standout candidate for the best Indian defender this season as he has the pace to recover, and he doesn’t get bested in one-on-one duels on the flanks.
It’s hard to imagine that Lalengmawia – also known as Apuia – is all of 20-years-old. After having broken into the first-team setup in a struggling NorthEast United (NEUFC) team last season, Apuia has been a quiet leader in the middle of the park in the team’s turnaround to make the playoffs. He is ranked seventh in interceptions (42), is the second-best Indian midfielder for passes (715) and is ranked 10th in tackles (90) effected.
Goa’s Alberto Noguera and NEUFC’s Federico Gallego have been regular features in our Team of the Fortnight, and it’s hard to look past them for this season’s honours as the most creative midfielders in the division. It’s difficult to get the ball off the feet of these players and they are central to their teams’ attacking forays in the final third. When injured, Gallego’s absence was largely felt under former head coach Gerard Nus, and it was interim head coach Khalid Jamil who profited from having a fit-and-firing Uruguayan. Gallego finished with four goals and six assists in 14 matches, while Noguera finished as the league’s top assist provider with eight.
Mumbai’s Bipin Singh has the joint-most goal-scoring contributions (nine) for an Indian this season alongside Sunil Chhetri. He recently became the first player to score a hat-trick in the 2020-21 season to provide Mumbai with the momentum going into the final league game. The 25-year-old has been crucial in providing threatening crosses into the box, and his nippy pace makes him a nightmare to mark during transitions. Goa’s Jorge Ortiz is arguably the best winger in the division and he possesses the dribbling ability and pace to beat defenders at will. Despite not playing a big part in the final two games due to injury, Ortiz has struck six goals and provided an assist. His form will be key in Goa’s upcoming semifinals against Mumbai.
ATK Mohun Bagan’s Roy Krishna seven goals and four assists from five matches seemed to have taken his side to the doorstep of the league title and the AFC Champions League spot with two games to go. But the ever-running Krishna was halted in the final outings and the Fiji striker couldn’t get his team over the line. Despite the blip, the golden-boot race leader with 14 goals has been the best and the most consistent striker in the league.
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