From Adrian Luna to Joni Kauko: Midfielders to watch out for in Hero ISL 2022-23

From experienced campaigners, to new signings, and young emerging talents - the 2021-22 edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) saw a variety of midfielders impress for their respective sides.

It’s the middle of the park where the majority of the battles are won, and hence it is important for head coaches to strike the perfect balance in midfield while choosing their playing elevens. Midfielders, acting as a crucial link between attack and defenders, can often decide the outcome of the game and last season we witnessed many such players who shone on the big stage. 

With just four days to go for the Hero ISL 2022-23 season, here’s a list of midfielders to keep an eye out for in the upcoming campaign.

Borja Herrera (Hyderabad FC)

Image Courtesy: Hyderabad FC media

In a bid to defend their title in the upcoming season, defending champions Hyderabad FC have bolstered their squad with plenty of exciting signings, one of them being experienced Borja Herrera.

With over 100 appearances across all divisions in Spain, Herrera can play a variety of roles in the middle of the park and has also previously worked with head coach Manolo Marquez in Spain.

Having opened his account in the Durand Cup 2022, playing a key role in HFC’s run to the semi-final, the defending champions will bank on his experience in the upcoming season.

Ahmed Jahouh (Mumbai City FC)

One of the best midfielders to have graced the Hero ISL, Ahmed Jahouh’s creativity and set-piece prowess will come handy if Mumbai City FC are to bounce back from last season.

The Islanders had an underwhelming campaign last season, narrowly missing out on the playoffs, but Moroccan had a major influence. Often deployed in an attacking role under Des Buckingham, Jahouh had 10 goal contributions last season, which was his best-every tally in a single season.

With more firepower in MCFC’s attack this season, expect more of the same from Jahouh.

Anirudh Thapa (Chennaiyin FC)

One of the brightest midfielders in the country, Anirudh Thapa registered only a goal and an assist last season as Chennaiyin FC finished eighth in Hero ISL 2021-22. 

Last season, CFC started off brightly under coach Bozidar Bandovic and Thapa was often the driving force for the Marina Machans in midfield. Unfortunately, lack of goals and inconsistency saw them finish in the bottom half of the table.

With a new coach in Thomas Brdaric, who likes his team to play a high-intensity brand of football as evident in the Durand Cup, the German will be banking on Thapa to spearhead the midfield in the upcoming season.

Sahal Abdul Samad (Kerala Blasters FC)

A midfielder with plenty of promise, Sahal displayed flashes of brilliance and the creativity he offered, but couldn’t back that up with consistency under different managers in the Hero ISL over the years. However, last season, Sahal took his game to the next level, contributing six goals and an assist as the Yellow Army reached the final.

The Kerala lad finally looks to have found freedom and confidence under head coach Ivan Vukomanovic that has aided his game. With fans back in the stadium and the hunger to better their performance from last season, Sahal will be crucial to KBFC’s plans if they are to go a step ahead from last season.

Joni Kauko (ATK Mohun Bagan)

Having featured for Finland in Euro 2020, Joni Kauko was touted as one of the biggest signings in Hero ISL 2021-22. And despite ATK Mohun Bagan not managing to win any silverware last season, Kauko lived up to the hype.

The Mariners started off slowly last season, but when Juan Ferrando took over, he deployed Kauko in an attacking role and the midfielder thrived. He ended the season with three goals and six assists, as the Mariners reached the semi-finals.

Kauko also enjoyed a good run in the AFC Cup despite ATKMB bowing out in the AFC Cup Inter-Zonal Semi-finals. Already a fan favourite and into his second season, Kauko will be looking to carry from where he left off.

Adrian Luna (Kerala Blasters FC)

Adrian Luna hit the ground running last season, playing an integral role in Kerala Blasters FC's run to the Hero ISL final. Luna was at the heart of everything KBFC created as he featured in all of KBFC's matches and played more minutes than any other teammate.

With six goals and seven assists, Adrian Luna had a hand in 13 goal contributions for his side last season, more than any of his teammates. The Uruguayan also created 55 chances overall, which was the second-highest tally last season.

With several key players including Alvaro Vazquez and Jorge Diaz departing the club, Luna’s heroics in midfield will be key if KBFC are to replicate their form from last season. 

Javi Hernandez (Bengaluru FC)

Image Courtesy: Bengaluru FC media

Entering his fourth season in Indian football, another key midfielder to watch out for will be Javier Hernandez, who will now don the colours of Bengaluru FC.

The Spaniard playmaker often made the headlines for Odisha FC last season, single-handedly winning games for the Juggernauts and finishing as their top goal contributor with six goals and eight assists last season.

If Bengaluru FC can start firing on all cylinders after strengthening their squad, expect plenty of golazos once again from Javi.

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