INDIAN FOOTBALL

Exclusive: Football Express India’s best choice of Indian players in Hero ISL 2022-23

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Hero ISL 2022-2023

This season of the Hero ISL saw some Indian players stand up to the plate, providing performances that kept their teams afloat, virtually on par with the league’s foreign talents. Since its inception in 2014, the Indian Super League has seen the growth of several Indian star footballers, including Sahal Abdul Samad, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, and Liston Colaco.

In ISL season, Bengaluru FC and ATK Mohun Bagan reached the final after defeating Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC in penalty shootouts, respectively. Sivasakthi Narayanan, BFC‘s key to success, has been one of the most fascinating Indians among the four. But he wasn’t the only Indian to stand out this season, with numerous others flourishing for their respective teams.

Football Express looks at five Indian players who made an impact this season ahead of the ISL final :-

1. Sivasakthi Narayan

Sivasakthi Narayan took his time settling in after bursting into the scene in Bengaluru FC’s Durand Cup victory.

Bengaluru was having a bad run of form, with little mobility up front, which didn’t help. Sunil Chettri, an Indian icon, was a shell of himself, with new signing Roy Krishna spending his time finding his feet. But, as Simon Grayson figured out the best formation for the team, BFC went on an unbelievable winning streak that culminated in a berth in the final.

Sivasakthi, who succeeded in replacing Chettri up top, has been a major component of Bengaluru’s recovery. The 22-year-old forward has scored six goals in a lethal connection with Krishna. Bengaluru will be hoping that its youthful striker can keep his magical touch going as it attempts to recapture the ISL championship it last won in 2019.

2. Asish Rai

Asish Rai joined ATK Mohun Bagan this season after establishing himself as one of India’s greatest offensive wing-backs under Manolo Marquez in Hyderabad.

His team experienced a roller-coaster season, with lopsided victories followed by crushing defeats. The Mariners, on the other hand, regained their footing just in time, qualifying for the play-off by placing third and then defeating Odisha FC and Hyderabad on their route to the final.

The balance provided by Rai, whose value is shown by the fact that he has completed more interception (53) than anybody else in the league, was a crucial reason in its excellent season. Rai was a key character in ATKMB’s attacking threat, since his bombardment created the necessary openings for other attackers. The 24-year-old also has 30 tackles and an assist to his name.

3. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Bengaluru FC’s stunning comeback to reach the final was built on a rock-solid defence anchored by goalie Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

With Sunil Chhetri losing his starting spot, Gurpreet had to shoulder the leadership as Bengaluru went on to record a 10-game winning streak to qualify for the playoffs and then knock off Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City to reach the final.

The India international has made a league-high 67 saves and was key in the semi-final penalty shootout against Mumbai City.

4. Lallianzuala Chhangte

Lallianzuala Chhangte was long regarded as a nearly-there player in Indian football circles. Despite having an outstanding offensive skill set, Chhangte’s poor decision-making and failure to perform when it counted hurt his value.

Yet this was the season when he finally let go of that baggage. Going on to lead a seemingly unbeatable Mumbai side. However, Chhangte was unstoppable on the wings, with a keen eye for locating the target. He had the most goals scored by an Indian this season, with ten.

The 25-year-old striker forged an enthralling connection with Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Bipin Singh, assisting on six occasions.

5. Naorem Mahesh Singh

East Bengal’s youthful striker Naorem Mahesh Singh was the only bright spot in yet another poor campaign.

Despite his team finishing second-to-last in the rankings with only 19 points. Mahesh piled up seven assists, placing him second in the league. Moreover, the 23-year-old Manipur-born forward had an effective relationship with Cleiton Silva, who finished off four of his seven assists.

Mahesh’s greatest season performance came during his team’s 3-1 away win over Jamshedpur FC, when he recorded three assists.

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