Defensive stalwarts who dominated Hero ISL 2018-19
Bulk of the talk before the final of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 revolved around the massive potential of both the finalists' attacks and how it would become the deciding factor in who claims the ultimate glory. However, after a goalless 116 minutes, the difference on the day turned out to be a looping header by a defender deep into Extra Time - perhaps reiterating how important a role the defence plays in a team's success.
Today, we turn the attention to the proverbial 'rocks at the back' and shortlist the top defenders from the Hero ISL 2018-19 season.
Mourtada Fall – FC Goa
The Senegalese was a towering presence at the back all season, thereby helping the FC Goa attack focus on their job without having to worry about letting in goals at the other end. Fall’s performances improved with each passing match during the campaign as he became a crucial cornerstone of head coach Sergio Lobera’s style of play. Comfortable with playing out from the back, the 31-year-old proved equally efficient at matching his opponents for pace or power, helping the Gaurs earn eight clean-sheets. He played in 21 matches, scoring four vital goals including a brace in the 5-1 demolition of Mumbai City FC in the first-leg of the semi-finals. Fall was also the league’s best passer among defenders with an accuracy of 89.21%. He also had 44 tackles, 25 blocks and 194 clearances to his name.
Juanan – Bengaluru FC
The centre-back was an ever-present piece of Carles Cuadrat’s title-winning team, marshalling the troops around him by setting examples. Bengaluru were one of the best defences in the league all season, conceding a miserly 22 goals up until the semi-final stages. They kept seven clean-sheets with the Spaniard at the heart of the defence for almost all of them. He scored one and assisted one in the 20 matches he featured in, distributing 821 passes at an accuracy of 84.53%. Juanan finished the season with 22 tackles, 152 clearances and 21 blocks.
Tiri – Jamshedpur FC
Despite narrowly missing out on the semi-finals, Jamshedpur FC’s Spanish centre-back Tiri enjoyed another productive campaign where he gave further proof of why he is considered as one of the league's best. He played in each of Jamshedpur's 18 matches, helping his team to five clean-sheets in the process. The 27-year-old scored one goal and completed 845 passes – the second-highest tally among the Jamshedpur players. His defensive numbers are even more eye-catching as he completed 42 tackles, 33 interceptions, 27 blocks and 164 clearances.
Lucian Goian – Mumbai City FC
The Islanders owe much of their success this season to an excellent defence led by Goian, which seemed almost unbreachable for a significant part of the campaign. They kept eight clean-sheets and allowed just 20 goals from the 18 league matches – the second-lowest record in the division. The Romanian played a total of 19 matches, completing 82 tackles. His stature gave the Islanders a vital advantage at set-pieces and made him irreplaceable for Jorge Costa and Co. Goian further added to the impressive numbers with 33 interceptions, 34 blocks and 187 clearances.
Rahul Bheke – Bengaluru FC
Bheke had a memorable Hero ISL season, winning the title for Bengaluru with a classy header. However, his contributions for the Blues this term far exceeds that one moment of glory. Primarily a right-back, the 28-year-old is just as efficient playing on the left or at the heart of the defence, which is where he operated in against Goa in the decider. He played in all but one match for the Blues all season, scoring three goals and assisting one. The defender was Bengaluru’s second-best tackler after Erik Paartalu with 43 tackles to his name. He also completed more interceptions (26) than any of his teammates. Furthermore, Bheke completed 758 passes, affected 96 clearances and raked up 31 crucial blocks.