It has been another fascinating edition of I-League and at the half-way stage, the top three teams are separated by a paltry difference of only three points. We have surprise leaders in Minerva Punjab FC, who have been in outstanding form and have won seven of their nine matches. Whereas the Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have struggled against much smaller sides which has made the league competitive and exciting.
Goal presents to you the list of top 10 Indian players who have stood out with their extraordinary performances on the pitch (the list is in no particular order).
The 33-year-old veteran keeper has been in fine form under the sticks and has conceded only 5 goals with a staggering 84% save rate. It is no surprise that NEROCA FC have conceded only eight goals, second only to Minerva Punjab FC. He is expected to return soon from injury, and if the former Sporting Club de Goa goalkeeper continues his form under the sticks, we might find another North-East club lifting the I-League trophy at the end of the season.
SALAM RANJAN SINGH
The versatile young Manipuri defender has been a threat going forward while also marshalling his flank well in defence. The former Bengaluru FC defender has put in confidence-inspiring performances at the heart of defence as well, while pairing with Brazilian Eduardo Ferreira. He has presenting coach Khalid Jamil with a versatile option in defence.
The Mizo forward has been in sensational form for Shillong Lajong, and has made the most key passes in the final third per match than any other player. The 19-year old also has been vested with the set-piece responsibilities for Lajong and his inch-perfect deliveries in the box have been a constant threat for opposition defences.
The defensive midfielder has been incredible at the centre of the park with his ability to break-up play and initiate attacks for Mohun Bagan. The Mumbai-born midfielder's partnership along with Cameron Watson was key behind Bagan's dominance in their latest win against arch-rivals East Bengal. If the Kolkata giants are to reignite their title bid, Fernandes must continue to play a key role in midfield.
The Mizo attacking midfielder leads the charts in goal involvements among Indian players, with already three goals and two assists to his name. His partnership with Al-Amna and Katsumi Yusa in midfield and pace down the flanks provides much steam to East Bengal in the attacking third. His stellar performance against Shillong Lajong earned him the Man of the Match award as well.
Minerva Punjab are the league leaders and deservingly so, as they boast of a water-tight defence which has conceded only six goals in nine outings. Kamalpreet has been one of the pillars of Minerva's defence. He has not only performed his defensive duties with excellence but also has helped his team-mates in attack with over-lapping runs down the right.
Debutants NEROCA have surprised everyone with their brand of football which has helped reap desired results. Pritam Singh has been the workhorse for coach Gift Raikhan on the wings as the pacey winger also tracks back to help in defence. His crosses have been good and it was from his delivery from the right headed in by Subhash Singh that helped NEROCA win the North-Eastern derby against Shillong Lajong.
The Hoshiarpur-born centre-back has stood tall at the centre of defence and has been impressive so far in this edition of I-League. His partnership with Eric Dano has been excellent, which has proved crucial for Minerva. He is one of the finest tacklers in the league and has committed only six fouls in nine matches.
The Chennai City FC skipper has been a livewire in attack for V Soundarajan's side and has breezed past defenders with ease. He has completed the most number of dribbles in I-League and has also not been afraid to lunge in with tackles in the opposition half while pressing high. With a whopping 27 shots on target, he is third on the list behind team-mate Jean Joachim and Aser Dipanda.
The Manipuri forward has underwent a complete transformation under the guidance of NEROCA coach Gift Raikhan who has given him complete freedom in the attacking third. The former U-19 Indian international has been swapping wings, taking on defenders and has sometimes also paired up with Nedo Turkovic upfront in search o orgoals. He has scored match-winning goals - his 83rd-minute strike against Shillong Lajong and his brace over Indian Arrows helped Manipuri side pick up full three points from these fixtures.