From Akash Mishra to Anwar Ali: Top defenders to watch out for in ISL 2023-24
The defenders in ISL haven't just helped teams keep clean sheets but have been contributing more and more in attack in the last few seasons.
"Attack wins you games; defence wins you titles" – this famous quote from Sir Alex Ferguson remains significant to this day, with the team having the best defence often clinching the coveted trophy they're competing for.
The Indian Super League (ISL) have been no exception. The ISL has witnessed the rise of exceptional defensive talents. Statistics have consistently shown that having a rock-solid defence is pivotal for success in the league. This fact has been clearly illustrated by teams like Mumbai City FC, Mohun Bagan Super Giant, and Hyderabad FC, who have prioritized having a solid defensive unit and dominated the league in recent seasons.
While the ISL have seen several top foreign talents taking charge of defensive duties, Indian players haven't lagged far behind when it comes to showcasing the art of defending. Names like Anwar Ali, Sandesh Jhingan, and Akash Mishra have become household names among Indian football enthusiasts. This emergence of talented defenders has further intensified the league and set higher standards for defensive excellence.
But who are these defenders who stand out from the rest? So, without further ado, let's discover the top defenders to watch for in the ISL 2023-24 season.
Akash Mishra (Mumbai City FC)
Mishra was the most consistent defender for Hyderabad FC over the last two ISL seasons. Whether it's his positioning, off-the-ball movements, blocking crosses, or making timely tackles, Mishra checks all the boxes.
His marauding runs down the left flank, coupled with his defensive solidity, make him one of the top left-backs in the league. Mishra's work rate and pinpoint crosses significantly contribute to his side's attacking prowess.
Now, with his move to Mumbai City FC, he will enjoy more freedom to venture forward, as the Islanders' head coach, Des Buckingham, likes to harness the potential of his full-backs. The Indian international could form a potent partnership with Bipin Singh on the left flank, further enhancing their attacking threat down that side.
Fantasy potential: A full-back with such an expansive attacking skill set, Mishra could be the ideal addition to your team.
Anwar Ali (Mohun Bagan Super Giant)
The Indian international is renowned for his awareness, distribution, and positioning. He has also demonstrated his success in one-on-one situations. Besides meeting all the criterias for a defender, Ali has showcased his proficiency in scoring from set pieces, which adds another dimension to his contributions on the field.
Last season, Ali scored one goal and provided two assists. Besides, he made 36 tackles, 25 interceptions, 80 clearances, and 34 blocks.
The 23-year-old has been in excellent form since his arrival at Mohun Bagan Super Giant, having already notched three goals for his team, and he has been a stalwart at the back during their Durand Cup triumph and in the AFC Cup qualifiers.
Fantasy potential: A goal-scoring defender who has now joined the team that kept the most clean sheets last season, Ali is a must-pick for your team.
Mourtada Fall (Odisha FC)
Having made 99 appearances in the ISL, Senegalese defender Fall is also approaching a significant milestone this season. The 6ft 3in towering defender will be reuniting with Sergio Lobera at Odisha FC and is set to play a big role for the Juggernauts in the upcoming season.
At 35, Fall has a wealth of experience under his belt, something he would like to share with other players on the team. His commanding presence and game-reading ability will greatly benefit Odisha FC on their new journey under Lobera.
Boosted by his excellent heading accuracy, Fall is currently the highest-scoring defender in the league with 17 goals. His timing and positioning when attacking crosses and corners have resulted in numerous goals for both FC Goa and Mumbai City FC, a trait he aims to continue at Odisha FC as well.
Fantasy potential: With Odisha FC strengthening their defence, they can secure more clean sheets this season, and having a goal-scoring defender from that team is a clever move.
Sandesh Jhingan (FC Goa)
Jhingan has been a pivotal figure for every club he has played for so far, and at his new club FC Goa, he is likely to continue that gold standard for defenders. Known for his commanding presence, exceptional aerial ability, and composed style of play, he could be an instrumental figure for Manolo Marquez’s side going into the tenth season of the ISL. His leadership qualities and ability to read the game make him a true defensive stalwart and he is arguably the best Indian defender currently.
Jhingan made 22 appearances in the ISL 2022-23 season for Bengaluru FC. Notably, he led the clearances chart last season with a remarkable 165 clearances, leaving the second-best, Odei Onaindia, who is now his teammate at FC Goa, far behind with 94 clearances. Additionally, Jhingan dominated in aerial duels (118), which was more than double won by the second-best, Mourtada Fall (55).
Fantasy potential: With Manolo Marquez earning plaudits for his sturdy defence, Sandesh Jhingan could be a solid pick for your fantasy team.
Slavko Damjanovic (Bengaluru FC)
The Montenegrin centre-back is destined for greatness. Damjanovic is proactive, and his physicality and athleticism make him a tough defender to beat. His impeccable reading of the game, combined with aerial prowess, makes him a force to reckon with. Few strikers found a way past this defensive stalwart last season as he stood tall for Mohun Bagan Super Giant during their ISL Cup triumph.
Damjanovic joined the Mariners halfway through last season and swiftly fit into their defence. In the ISL 2022-23 season, he made 22 tackles, 11 interceptions, 38 clearances, and 8 blocks. Now, having moved to Bengaluru FC for the upcoming season, the centre-back would be hoping to continue from where he left off last season.
Fantasy potential: Playing for the new defensive unit in the league, Damjanovic can rack up clean sheet points and occasional goal points.
Aakash Sangwan (Chennaiyin FC)
Sangwan has rapidly evolved into a highly versatile player during his time at Chennaiyin FC. The full-back is renowned for his dynamic playing style, which showcases a unique combination of defensive stability and attacking flair, making him a standout performer from the previous season.
With a powerful left foot and an exceptional ability to deliver pinpoint crosses, he consistently provides precise passes that create goal-scoring opportunities for his teammates. In the ISL 2022-23 season, Sangwan recorded five assists, the highest number among defenders, while also contributing to the defensive resilience of the Marina Machans with 63 tackles, 33 interceptions, 36 clearances, and 41 blocks.
Fantasy potential: His proficiency in earning points from set pieces makes him a valuable asset for fantasy teams.