BY MANASI PATHAK
The upcoming season of the Indian Super League is just a day away. The opening tie will see Rene Meulensteen-led Kerala Blasters take on two-time champions ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi after the grand opening ceremony, starring Bollywood actors Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.
Before heading into the new chapter of ISL, Goal tells you about the key Indian players on each side.
1) ATK- Debjit Majumder
The 29-year-old goalkeeper was pivotal in The Bengal Tigers’ campaign last season. It was Debjit who pulled off the mind-blowing save, off his right leg, as he denied Cedric Hengbart from the penalty spot, eventually leading ATK to their second championship title. Alert and responsive, the custodian will continue to strengthen the Kolkata outfit with his performances between the sticks.
2) Bengaluru FC- Sunil Chhetri
ISL debutants Bengaluru FC look set to impress one and all with their new yet well-balanced side. Team leader Sunil Chhetri is unarguably the best domestic player donning the blue colours this season. The India skipper is invaluable for his club and country with his skill and footballing brain. A monster in attack, Chhetri will look to improve his record from the last chapter of the tournament.
3) Chennaiyin FC- Jeje Lalpekhlua
With four goals in nine matches for the Indian national team, and the latest strike coming at Goa against Myanmar in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, forward Jeje Lalpekhlua is attempting to bring himself back into the limelight. A lethal presence in the attack, the 26-year-old from Mizoram will be one of the most decisive players for The Super Machans.
4) Delhi Dynamos FC- Pritam Kotal
The first choice right-back for the national side will be the North Indian outfit’s steel in the backline. The fourth-most expensive player in the ISL draft, Pritam has proven to be one of the safest bets in defence, at the young age of 24. Guarding the right-side of the defence for his team, Kotal will play a huge role in The Lions' success.
5) FC Goa- Mandar Rao Dessai
Having impressed coach Zico in the 2015 season of the Gaurs, Mandar will play a crucial role in FC Goa’s playmaking, this season. A productive winger on the left, a lot will be expected from the 25-year-old who makes his way through the defenders with clever dribbling and ball control. Mandar himself will be eager to dispell the rut he has found himself in lately.
6) FC Pune City- Kean Lewis
The Maharashtra-born winger, who has had a taste of football in USA and England during his early days, will aim to make a mark at the Arjun Kapoor co-owned side. Lewis dominates the wings and is a promising prospect, who has a good equation with Pune's marquee signing - Marcelinho - from their Delhi Dynamos days.
7) Jamshedpur FC- Mehtab Hossain
The former East Bengal player will be plying his trade for new entrants Jamshedpur FC, following his selection in the ISL draft. The 32-year-old is one of the best defensive midfielders in the country and his anchoring duties will be put to full use at the Jharkhand outfit. An unsung hero in the midfield, Hossain has proven to be among the most experienced holding medios and will be a blessing for the Steve Cooper-managed team.
8) Kerala Blasters FC- CK Vineeth
Ever since his injury during the Bengaluru FC days at the Federation Cup in May this year, Vineeth has been absent from the footballing scene. However, having fully recovered now, he will lead the proceedings in the midfield for the Yellows. A fully fit Vineeth can ruin any defender’s day and that is exactly what will be expected from him this season. Swift, creative and prolific, the local boy is expected to run riot in the 2017-18 season.
9) Mumbai City FC- Balwant Singh
The Islanders have been blessed with one of the best domestic strikers at the moment. In Balwant, Mumbai City FC have a reliable forward as well as a goal-machine. His sublime form for the Blue Tigers promises an entertaining season for the Western India outfit, one where he should be registering goals at regular intervals.
10) NorthEast United FC- Rowllin Borges
Stephen Constantine’s favourite defensive midfielder has always played a determining role for the national side. For the Highlanders, Borges will be the midfield linchpin, thanks to his smart understanding of the game. The 25-year-old knows his way to lay off balls which build the perfect set-up for the attackers upfront and also makes intelligent late runs into the box.