The 2020-’21 Indian Super League season was different in more ways than one. The players were in a bio-bubble and played at neutral venues behind closed doors.
The ISL had eleven teams for the first time in its history as SC East Bengal joined the fray. What didn’t change was the performances of some usual suspects and the emergence of new young Indian players.
Sunil Chhetri was once again the top Indian goalscorer in the ISL this season while ATK Mohun Bagan’s Roy Krishna was right among the goals again.
Teams like Hyderabad FC and NorthEast United were able to give more chances to young Indian players and some of their players repaid their faith handsomely.
In a season that Indian football team coach Igor Stimac called the best one so far, there were notable performances across the board.
As the dust settles on the campaign, here’s the team of the season.
Goalkeeper: Amrinder Singh (Mumbai City FC)
The captain of the winning team, Amrinder Singh produced assured performances in goal for Sergio Lobera’s team that were vital in them becoming the champions. Amrinder kept the joint-most clean sheets this season (10) and also produced 61 saves, a tally only bettered by Odisha FC goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh. Playing in front of a solid back four Amrinder’s numbers make an even more impressive reading as he was always switched on and alert to the danger. Should he now also be India’s No 1 goalkeeper?
Right-back: Ashutosh Mehta (NorthEast United)
The Highlanders full-back had an inspired campaign and was especially excellent under coach Khalid Jami. One of the most trusted players, Mehta provided flexibility to his coach by playing in different positions at times. He was defensively solid and also contributed going forward, earning high praise for his efforts. The biggest acknowledgment of his quality this season came when he was called up by India head coach Igor Stimac in his 35-man probables for the upcoming international friendlies against UAE and Oman.
Centre-back: Mourtada Fall (Mumbai City FC)
The best centre-back in the league by a distant mile, Fall was a rock in Lobera’s defence. At times the solitary foreign defender in Mumbai’s backline, he led the Indian defenders well making Mumbai City’s rearguard the second-best in the league. At the other end, he was a massive goal threat and netted four times this season to be the Islanders’ fourth-highest goalscorer.
Centre-back: Pritam Kotal (ATK Mohun Bagan)
Naturally a full-back, Pritam Kotal adapted brilliantly to the centre-back position in Antonio Habas’ back three. He was the pick of the Mariners’ defenders who helped the team stitch together the league’s meanest defence. Kotal’s reading of the game was impeccable this season and he was sixth in the list of most interceptions in the ISL this season.
Left-back: Akash Mishra (Hyderabad FC)
The Nizams full-back has been one of the finds of the ISL season. Having played for Indian Arrows in the I-League for two years, Mishra made the jump to Hyderabad FC ahead of the season and didn’t disappoint. Mishra had the league’s third-best tally for interceptions this season and the best by an Indian defender. He also showed quality going forward and was an integral part of Hyderabad’s positive season. A call-up to the Indian football team is just reward for the 19-year-old defender.
Central midfielder: Ahmed Jahouh (Mumbai City FC)
Jahouh was the heartbeat of Lobera’s Mumbai City and he was central to everything that the Islanders did on the football pitch. He set the tone for his team and bossed the midfield at will this season. Jahouh made 1490 passes this season, the second-best tally in the league. He was also crucial in breaking up the opposition attacks as he made 173 tackles during the season, the most by any player in the league by a long margin. He was also on set-piece duty for the Islanders and provided five assists this season. A truly complete midfield package.
Central midfielder: Lalengmawia (NorthEast United)
The young midfielder started all games for the Highlanders this season and provided his team with a real bit in the middle of the park. Making 93 tackles and 46 interceptions he was a real influence in that NorthEast United midfield and was adjudged the Emerging player of the season for his performances that helped NorthEast United reach the semi-final for just the second time in their history. He was another young player who was called up to the national team probables by coach Stimac.
Attacking midfielder: Alberto Noguera (FC Goa)
The Goa midfielder had the joint-most assists this season (8). He made FC Goa’s midfield tick with his creativity but also had other aspects to his game. Noguera was the fourth-highest passer in the ISL this season and also made 98 tackles. The Spaniard will be key for the Gaurs’ chances in their AFC Champions League.
Right-wing: Federico Gallego (NorthEast United)
While Gallego played more as an inside forward than a winger, the strength of Gallego was that he could operate at any position across the midfield. The chief creative spark in the NorthEast United team, Gallego really stepped up his game this season and caused defences all sorts of problems with his clever positioning and passing range. He provided six assists this season, the most by any NorthEast United player.
Left-wing: Bipin Singh (Mumbai City FC)
Easily the most improved Indian player this season, Bipin Singh scored the winning goal for Mumbai City FC in the final. He was also the only player to score a hat-trick this season. With six goals and four assists, he has the most goal contributions by an Indian player this campaign. From being just a fringe player last season, Bipin Singh won Lobera’s trust despite several new additions at the team and retained it all throughout the season.
Centre-forward: Roy Krishna (ATK Mohun Bagan)
Roy Krishna won the best player of the tournament award and there was no better candidate. With 14 goals and eight assists to his name, he had more goal contributions than any other player in the league. There was more to him than just his numbers as he made the entire ATK Mohun Bagan attack click. Manvir Singh recorded his best-ever figures in a season playing with Krishna. He was involved in 22 out of the 32 goals that the Mariners scored in the 2020-21 campaign.
Igor Angulo (FC Goa): Won the golden boot after scoring 14 times this season and had the best goals per minute ratio in the league. However, couldn’t match Krishna’s overall contribution to his team’s attacking play.
Manvir Singh (ATK Mohun Bagan): The joint second-highest Indian goalscorer in the ISL this season, Manvir impressed in a three-pronged ATK Mohun Bagan attack. He played all games for the Mariners this season and played a key role in taking them to the final.
Rowllin Borges (Mumbai City FC): Ran the show in midfield for Mumbai City FC along with Jahouh. Made 1124 passes in total this season, the most by an Indian player. He also made most interceptions for an Indian player this season.
Ortiz (FC Goa): Ortiz was a real threat from midfield for FC Goa and along with Noguera and took the most shots by any player in the ISL this season.
Chinglensana Singh (Hyderabad FC): One of the best centre-backs in the league this season, Chinglensana played a huge role in making the Hyderabad FC defence one of the best in the league. His performances earned him a call-up to the national team.
Arindam Bhattacharja (ATK Mohun Bagan): Won the golden glove award after keeping ten clean sheets for the Mariners this season. Was at fault for Mumbai’s winner in the final but otherwise had an excellent season and saved ATK Mohun Bagan on several occasions.