He was the only Indian to be nominated for November’s Player of the Month honour, he is considered a future national team captaincy candidate, and he is crucial to Chennaiyin FC’s chances in the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL).

Anirudh Thapa has orchestrated the midfield like a workhorse this year. The 22-year-old was coming off his best season, with one goal and six assists in 20 appearances, ahead of the ongoing edition.

Thapa’s appointment as one of the vice-captains, alongside Eli Sabia, is proof of how much faith new manager Csaba Laszlo has in him. He repaid the Hungarian coach’s trust by becoming the first Indian goalscorer of ISL 2020-21.

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His goal against Jamshedpur FC in match five of the season was the fourth-fastest in the tournament’s short history, scored in just 52 seconds. Chennaiyin won the game 2-1 and opened its campaign with three points.

Thapa’s performance against Jamshedpur earned him the Hero of the Match award and plaudits from several football pundits and fans.

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In the next outing against Kerala Blasters, the former Punjab FC player kept troubling the opposition in the middle of the park by retrieving possession and also upped his passing game. Unfortunately for him, Slovak forward Jakub Sylvestr missed a penalty in the 76th minute as Chennaiyin had to settle for a goalless draw.

Having garnered four points from two matches, the Marina Machans faced another southern rival, Bengaluru FC, next, and that was when bad luck struck for Thapa. He joined the list of injured players for the season when Ashique Kuruniyan took him out with mistimed tackles twice in the space of six minutes. The Dehradun-born star was substituted pretty early after twisting his ankle and spent a majority of the game on the sidelines with an ice pack fitted to his right foot. Bengaluru eventually beat Chennai 1-0 with a spot-kick from skipper Sunil Chhetri.

Thapa has completed the most successful interceptions in ISL 2020-21 – 12 – and also features in the top-10 list for most blocks, with seven. Head coach Laszlo would be sweating over his central midfielder’s fitness, hoping it’s nothing serious because he is an influential player in the Chennaiyin squad.