Despite shelling out astonishingly to rope in prolific goal-scorers, star-studded clubs like Mumbai City FC (MCFC), ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB), Kerala Blasters (KB), Bengaluru FC (BFC) and others know well that the Indian Super League (ISL) can only be won with a sturdy defence.
A closer look at the imports last summer also points towards the fact possessing an impenetrable defence has been a top priority for all ISL clubs contrary to popular opinion. Here we look at the Indian Super League’s best backlines this season.
ATK MOHUN BAGAN
ATK Mohun Bagan boast of the best backline in the entire league, especially because of the individual assurances that Antonio Habas’ defenders offer him. A fan of the three-man defence with dynamic wing-back causing a ruckus in the attacking third, the Spanish gaffer finally has all the pieces in the right places. An intelligent, ball-playing Tiri as the centre back has veterans Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal flanking him to provide the perfect screen for goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya. Workhorses Sumit Rathi and Prabir Das have proved their mettle last season on the flanks, who can speed up and down throughout the 90 minutes with unparalleled stamina. The club had the second-best defensive stats in ISL last season under Habas – conceding just 17 goals in 18 matches – without defensive stalwarts Jhingan and Tiri. With the new additions, Habas will have huge expectations from his defence this time.
MUMBAI CITY FC
Mumbai City FC’s massive revamp this summer began with a large exodus early on as reliable enforcers like Mato Grgic, Anwar Ali, Pratik Chaudhari and Subhasish Bose all left the Islanders. With Sergio Lobera not being part for the most of the second half, Goa finished the season conceding 23 goals and the Spaniard has brought his defensive general Mourtada Fall to MCFC from the Gaurs along with him. However, with Fall being the only overseas defensive recruitment, Lobera will be over-reliant on Indians defenders like Sarthak Golui and Mehtab Singh ahead of Amrinder Singh’s safe pair of gloves. His fluid football will see more attack from the flanks as well when midfielders like Ahmed Jahouh and Hernan Santana could be seen dropping deep. Though not as position-specific as ATKMB, Lobera’s backline has players like Mandar Rao Desai and Amey Ranawade who could be a threat going on the offensive.
After Kerala Blasters had to undergo a similar revamp like Mumbai City FC, although not as high profile, following a seventh-place finish last season, the management has made some significant improvements at the back. After Gianni Zuiverloon left Kerala this summer, they brought in European football experienced Bakary Kone and Costa Nhamoinesu to their central defence. However, more than their experience, the defensive duo provides Kerala with immense physicality – something that is quintessential in Asian football which thrives on set-pieces. Unlike ATKMB and MCFC’s offensive setup, Kibu Vicuna prefers a conventional four-man defence with young Jessel Carneiro and Nishu Kumar beaming on the flanks. Carneiro was Kerala’s best player last season whereas 23-year-old Nishu Kumar has already won ISL once with Bengaluru FC. Vicuna’s Mohun Bagan had conceded just 13 goals on their way to winning the I-League last season, and Kerala fans have every reason to be optimistic.
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