The sixth edition of the Indian Super League finally culminated in the an unprecedented third title for ATK. From 95 games that were played, 294 goals were scored through the course of the season and there were plenty of players that caught the eye. Few established players from last season failed replicate their form while there were some eye-catching signings who set the league alight.
In a season that saw plenty of youngsters from India’s Fifa U-17 World Cup squad leave a mark in their debut season, it was a underwhelming season for many of the Indian senior team regulars.
The ISL 2019-’20 team of the season lines up with 4-3-3 formation which has a quota of five overseas players going by the league regulations. What may come as a surprise, there was no place for the likes of veteran Sunil Chhetri, Bartholomew Ogbeche and Juanan among many others.
Goalkeeper – Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Bengaluru FC)
Retaining the Golden Glove award for the second season running, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was top-notch between the sticks for Bengaluru FC as they recorded a league-high tally of 11 clean sheets.
The India custodian was guilty of a few errors early into the season but he regained his confidence and was a rock at the back as the Blues gained a reputation as one of the meanest defenses in the league, conceding 14 goals.
From 19 appearances this season, the Bengaluru FC custodian has conceded a goal in every 122.14 minutes while making 49 saves.
Right-back – Prabir Das (ATK)
After missing out entirely during the previous season owing to an injury, wing-back Prabir Das has roared back in style, playing a massive part in ATK’s run to title where he thrived in Antonio Habas’s 3-5-2 system.
Das has been a tricky customer to deal with, wreaking havoc on the channels with his electric pace and his fearless ability to take on opposition defenders at will.
He has the ability to get into promising positions and whip in dangerous crosses in the box. Das tallied five assists all season, joint-highest for a defender alongside Kerala Blasters’ Jessel Carneiro while no other defender has created as many chances in the league as him.
Centre-back – Sumit Rathi (ATK)
Bengaluru FC’s Suresh Wangjam, Jamshedpur FC centre-back Narender Gahlot, Kerala Blasters midfielder Jeakson Singh were among the few teenagers who shone in the their debut season but they couldn’t match the kind of impact that Sumit Rathi had for his side.
Rathi was hardly part of Habas’ plans during the opening stages of the season but he worked his way into the side and established himself a key cog in ATK’s defence over Salam Ranjan Singh and Sehnaj Singh.
The 18-year-old truly came of age this season, boasting an impressive passing accuracy of over 70 per cent while racking up 115 clearances and 27 interceptions. His standout performances in the heart of defense have also earned him a first national team call-up.
Centre-back – Mourtada Fall (FC Goa)
A special mention for Bengaluru FC’s Juanan Gonzalez here but Mourtada Fall was once again immense for FC Goa at the back although they struggled to keep clean sheets.
Striking a sturdy partnership with Carlos Pena, Fall was the backbone of the FC Goa defense, making vital clearances and last-ditch blocks, missing just one league game all season. His passing accuracy stood at 87.52 per cent, which was been vital to FC Goa’s style of building from the back.
No team other than FC Goa scored the most from set-pieces, and the 6’3 centre-back was a constant threat – banging in five goals (most by a defender) while supplying three assists.
Left-back – Jessel Carneiro (Kerala Blasters)
In what was his debut season, Jessel Carneiro was the find of the season, playing all the league games and thriving in a left-back role under Eelco Schattorie at Kerala Blasters. Carneiro took to the league like duck to water despite never featuring in the ISL or I-League before.
Carneiro bombing up the pitch and supplying crosses in the box was a constant sight in all of Kerala Blasters’ games as the Goan chipped in with five assists – joint-par with Prabir Das despite playing few minutes lesser. Credit must also go to Schattorie for keeping faith in Carneiro and grooming him well.
Central midfielder – Anirudh Thapa (Chennaiyin FC)
Anirudh Thapa has been a mainstay for Chennaiyin FC in their midfield and made vital contributions at both ends of the pitch in a box-to-box midfield role. Owen Coyle dubbed him as the “best Indian midfielder” and the diminutive player lived up to his coach’s expectations, proving to be the vital link between attack and defense.
Forming a great understanding with both Edwin Vanspaul and Germanpreet Singh in the middle of the park, Thapa was instrumental with his ability to win possession in midfield and keep play ticking – providing six assists and scoring one goal.
He has also accounted for the most interceptions (53) in the league which underlines his defensive contribution.
Central midfielder – Brandon Fernandes (FC Goa)
Fernandes had a massive part to play in FC Goa’s finish at the summit and this has been his best-ever ISL season. He didn’t hit the ground running after serving injuries and suspensions early on but the 25-year-old came into his own once he regained full fitness.
Fernandes’ stunning ability to spray defense-splitting passes and his vision to pick out his teammates in dangerous areas from set-pieces cannot be undermined as FC Goa scored a mind-boggling 51 goals this season – the best record in the league.
The FC Goa No 10 has chipped in with seven assists, most by an Indian midfielder this edition alongside netting two goals. The Margao-born player also upped his defensive work-rate, making 79 tackles in all.
Attacking midfielder – Rafael Crivellaro (Chennaiyin FC)
Signed as a replacement for Brazilian compatriot Raphael Augusto, Rafael Crivellaro proved to be the creative engine at the heart of Chennaiyin FC’s attack.
His knack of skipping past defenders with ease, delivering pin-point passes and exploiting the spaces between the lines, was a treat to watch. Crivellaro was also on set-piece duties for the two-time winners and finished second to FC Goa’s Hugo Boumous for most assists in the league. Alongside creating chances, the veteran had an equal contribution in front of goal, finding the back of the net on seven occasions.
Left forward – Hugo Boumous (FC Goa)
When FC Goa played Bengaluru FC in the last edition’s final, Hugo Boumous was part of the bench. The Frenchman has gone on to establish himself as an indispensable asset for the Gaurs and stole the limelight from teammate Ferran Corominas this campaign, picking up the Player of the Season award.
Like Fernandes, Boumous took time to settle in but took the league by storm once he found his footing – running rings around opposition defenders with his key movements, trickery and dribbling skills.
His telepathic understanding with Corominas has been the pulse of FC Goa’s attack as the duo formed a potent partnership in front of goal, racking 25 goals together.
The 24-year-old scored 10 goals in 15 matches this season alongside feeding 11 assists – becoming the first player to register double-digit figures in both disciplines. The playmaker also set a new record for most assists in a single season.
Even in those tricky fixtures after Sergio Lobera’s depature, Boumous was able to make the difference, single-handedly guiding FC Goa to the AFC Champions League. Imagine the kind of impact Boumous could’ve had if he was fully fit for the playoffs, where FC Goa stumbled against Chennaiyin FC?
Striker – Nerijus Valskis (Chennaiyin FC)
After signing in the summer, Valskis did not enjoy the best of starts in Chennaiyin FC colours, failing to find the net in his first four matches but once he got in the groove, there was no stopping him. The Lithuanian was the focal point of attack for Chennaiyin FC, beating ATK hitman Roy Krishna to bag the Golden Boot with 15 strikes to his name.
His ability to hold up play and vacate space for other attackers in the final third was crucial in guiding Owen Coyle’s side to the final as he contributed six assists. Valskis’ aerial prowess was also evident as he scored plenty headers.
Right forward – Roy Krishna (ATK)
Krishna was unlucky to not play a full-part in the final after setting the opener for ATK, forced to being substituted just before the first half after pulled his hamstring. However, his night turned from agony to ecstasy as ATK managed to do the job without the Fijian following a complete team performance.
Krishna was among the eye-catching summer signings in the ISL and he has lived up to the billing, making an impact with his link-up play, pace and direct running.
His poaching instincts came to the fore during the tournament, and for Krishna, the goals have continued to follow despite being paired alongside David Williams, Edu Garcia, Balwant Singh or Jobby Justin over the course of the season.
Krishna enjoys a stunning goals per game average of 0.71 and out of 39 goals that ATK have scored, the former Wellington Phoenix striker has been involved in 21 of them – joint highest in the league with Valskis.
Honorable mentions: Rowllin Borges, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Juanan Gonazalez, Ferran Corominas, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Ahmed Jahouh, Pritam Kotal, Sunil Chhetri.