There is no doubt that the fifth season of ISL has seen more power-packed performance than most of the games combined in the first four seasons. With tactically superior managers marching in with their unknown talents, every match is eye-catching. Here is the best eleven from game week one.
Dheeraj Singh – If someone like David James is picking a player despite his unsuccessful stints with AIFF Elite and Indian Arrows that had eventually left him with no clubs before joining Kerala Blasters, then one has got to be special. Dheeraj is only 18-year-old, which is widely considered too young an age to be a goalkeeper, but as they say “when you’re right, you’re right”. Despite having the luxury of standing behind one of the best defences in the league, Dheeraj has been called into action quite frequently and his confident showing is one of the sole reasons why the Blasters look like serious contenders this season. He has conceded once in two games and has one successful shutout as well.
Sandesh Jhingan- Perhaps the most consistent player in the five years of ISL, Jhingan deserves at least one title only for the sheer determination and leadership that he displays from the back line. He is not a no-nonsense defender who excels at clearing the lines at every instance but is also a creator whose measured balls from the back can catch the opponent off-guard at any time. Having fast forwards up front, Blasters have often been seen making their skipper the source of attack through long balls. Apart from that, Jhingan’s brilliant reading of the game and ability to keep the backline organized at all time is also commendable.
Tiri - Not as old in ISL as Jhinghan, but this centre-half has made the position his own in the last two seasons. Not your generic Spanish centre-half as his nationality states, Tiri would remind one of John Terry with his play. His intense focus during the game and aggressiveness has prevented Jamshedpur from some sure shot goals as Tiri always seems to get his last-ditch tackle right. A brilliant header of the ball as well, this defensive general doesn’t think twice about putting his head in places where others won’t dare to put their feet. He was Steve Coppell’s main man last season and this season, Cesar Fernando’s squad also revolves around him.
Mato Grgic - It took NorthEast United five seasons, but they finally seem to have sorted out the position that has been a thorn in their side for years – central defence. And in the centre of it stands the Croatian newcomer. Elco Schattorie has brought two Croatian centre-halves, with the other one being Mislav Komorski, but it is the older one that is making the difference. NEUFC had conceded a whopping 27 goals last season, which was one of the major reasons for their downfall, and the way they have started this season (conceding 2 goals in 2 games) looks like progress. Schattorie’s slow build-up play has also been seemingly successful because the gaffer can rely blindly on his centre-half.
Erik Paartalu - Though Bengaluru FC wouldn’t be boasting about the way they have played this season with opponents finally looking like they have cracked BFC’s mystery, there is no doubt that some of the players have continued their blistering form from last season, and one of them is the Australian. Built ideally for the deep-lying role that BFC have given him, it is Paartalu’s offensive nature that separates him from the rest. The 6’3” midfielder misses no opportunity to dash up the field whenever there is a set piece and more often than not gets to the end of the ball. Like most other defensive midfielders, his is also a liability with yellow cards but he isn’t someone running the midfield or holding structure. Paartalu’s contribution in central defence is telling and with someone like Jhinghan at the back in this team, who would often be seen running up with the ball, the Australian would be filling in the spaces aptly.
Ahmed Jahouh - Pretty much like the quintessential old day English defender, this Moroccan thrives on his ruffian attitude and aggressive tackles. A match where Jahouh won’t get a booking is no match at all. While sophistication is not something that can be attributed to Jahouh, ISL has proved itself more susceptible to rigorous plays anyway. Specializing in winning the ball high up the field and providing those through balls on the counter to the forwards making the run inside the box, Jahouh is a player every team needs. How else would you justify him being a regular in Sergio Lobera’s Spanish
Edu Bedia- After we are done with the players who could destruct and dismantle opponents’ structure, let’s look at the ones who could create things up front. Bedia wasn’t a part of Goa’s line-up in the first match with Lobera looking to experiment things against a presumably weak NorthEast side in the first match of the season. And although Goa managed to score twice, they didn’t really win the ball high up in the field and eventually failed to kill the game. However, their second game against Chennaiyin FC saw the playmaker in the No. 10 position and the magic unlocked. Deft with both his feet, the player can create goals and score with equal perfection.
Jerry Mawihmingthanga- If there is one player in ISL who is actually stealing everyone’s attention it is Jerry Mawihmingthanga and not Gaurav Mukhi. The youngster is relentless in his approach both offensively and defensively and with Jamshedpur FC playing more on the offensive now than what they were doing last year, he has grown the wings that were hinted last season. His incredible pace to exploit the free space behind the defence had almost paralyzed Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC. His crosses have improved significantly since last season and although he is yet to get a goal or an assist, he is almost always involved in the buildups to them.
Holicharan Narzary- If Jerry has insane speed on the flanks, in Narzary we have a more mature and versatile winger who could run up and down the flanks and cut inside as and when needed. While we could see his talent only in figments last season with the Highlanders, his role in the side seems to have been more defined under David James’ Kerala Blasters. With a false no. 9 ahead of him in Matej Poplatnik, Narzary is a very important player for Blasters, who could either provide the crucial passes in the final third or himself take up the scoring role if and when he deems fit. He already has a goal in two games so far.
Ferran Corominas- Gone are the days of Ian Hume and Fikru Teferra whose persistence of winning the ball high up the field used to win teams matches. With as many as five Spanish managers in charge of the clubs in ISL, it is no more unnoticeable that the style of the league has changed. From the Sunday league football traits, the league has come into a more composed and controlled passing gameplay where a strategy is put into place for every pre-determined situation. Hence, the likes of Coro are making their ways in. Brilliant finishing, controlled dribbling, and falling deep to create chances are some of the traits of these strikers and Coro excels in all of them.
Miku Fedor- Brought from the Spanish league last season after Bengaluru stepped up to the Indian Super League, the Venezuelan forward has really been an upgrade. Talk about a target man and Miku would tick perhaps all the brackets. He has the physicality to collect the ball with his back facing the goal, he can run faster than most full-backs in the league and most importantly, he can score some actual stunners from a considerable distance. BFC’s counter-attacking style of play doesn’t often find the South American in his favourable positions but he knows how to take his chances.
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