Passing is undoubtedly essential in football, but equally crucial is a player's ability to compete for possession, challenge opponents, and maintain control, making winning duels a pivotal skill for any player and cornerstone for any team’s success.

In simple terms, a duel refers to a direct contest between two players for the ball, whether it's in the air or on the ground.

While forwards also contribute to winning duels, it's typically defenders or defensive midfielders who are heavily involved in these battles, with each duel carrying significant importance in shaping the outcome of matches. During the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season, several players showcased exceptional prowess in one-on-one battles, demonstrating remarkable strength and determination in winning duels for their respective sides. 

We’ll be looking at players who contested minimum 50 duels and boasted the best success rates in the season gone by. 

Dimitrios Chatziisaias (Punjab FC)

The Greek defender was the glue that held Punjab FC's defence together, providing stability and resilience throughout the season.  While forwards like Luka Majcen, Jordan Gil, and Madih Talal often grabbed the spotlight, Chatziisaias played a pivotal role alongside Suresh Meitei at the heart of the defence.

Standing tall and robust, the centre-back featured in 20 matches, totaling 1735 minutes on the pitch, and helped the team keep clean sheets. In 109 duels, he won an impressive 80, achieving a season-high success rate of 73.39%. Additionally, the Punjab FC defender contributed 103 recoveries and made 101 clearances, proving crucial for the Shers as they enjoyed a successful debut season. 

Joao Victor (Hyderabad FC)

In a challenging 2023-24 season for Hyderabad FC, Victor stood out as the only foreign player left in the squad by the season’s end. Despite finishing at the bottom of the table, Hyderabad FC showed significant promise with their youthful team, and the experienced Victor served as a role model, particularly with his ability in winning duels.

Playing a total of 1612 minutes across 19 appearances last season, the Brazilian engaged in 138 duels, winning 100 of them at an impressive success rate of 72.46%. Beyond his duel-winning ability, the former ISL Cup winner boasted an 87% success rate in passing and serving as the team’s lynchpin.

Ryan Edwards (Chennaiyin FC)

Chennaiyin FC endured a challenging defensive season, securing just three clean sheets and conceding 36 goals, the league's second-worst tally. Despite these defensive struggles, they ended a three-season playoff drought and proved formidable opponents, excelling in duels and counter-attacks, with defender Edwards playing a pivotal role in their resurgence.

The English defender made a notable debut in the ISL with Marina Machans, emerging as a key figure in the squad by forming a robust partnership with Lazar Cirkovic at the heart of the defence. Edwards won 100 duels out of 145, boasting a success rate of 68.97%. Additionally, he engaged in 72 aerial duels, executed 31 blocks, and made 91 recoveries, alongside 79 clearances over 1823 minutes of play. His commanding performances earned him admiration from the fans.

Narender Gahlot (Odisha FC)

Odisha FC centre-back Gahlot had limited opportunities with the Kalinga Warriors last season, playing just 1051 minutes in 15 appearances. Despite this, he consistently delivered strong performances when called upon, particularly excelling in duels. 

The 23-year-old participated in 59 duels, winning 40 of them with a success rate of 67.8%. Despite his limited game time, he completed 533 successful passes with an impressive success rate of 82%, showcasing his value to Sergio Lobera’s side, which achieved a historic first by qualifying for the semi-finals.

Hector Yuste (Mohun Bagan SuperGiant)

The Spanish defender secured the League Shield in his inaugural season with the Mariners, proving to be a stalwart at the back and an essential member of their starting eleven by season's end. 

He logged 2072 minutes across 24 appearances, keeping eight clean sheets. In duels, he contested 149, winning 101 with a success rate of 67.79%, including 58 aerial duels. Yuste also registered 120 recoveries, 17 blocks, and completed 917 successful passes, his influence pivotal in Mohun Bagan SG's journey to the final.