Goals win you games, defences win you championships might be a footballing cliche but it almost always holds true. It’s no different in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) where teams with solid defences almost end up on top.

The Hero ISL has seen some great defenders grace the league with their presence over the years and when the personnel has been married with the right coaching mind, it has resulted in well-oiled defensive units that have made the brightest of strikers toil.

As the clubs are busy strengthening their teams ahead of Hero ISL 2022-23 season, here’s a look back at the best defensive records in the history of the league.

Apart from a ride of nostalgia, it may serve as a good benchmark for those recruiting at clubs who are busy assembling their defensive units.

Here are the five best defensive records in Hero ISL history:

Mumbai City FC (Hero ISL 2016 season)

Goals conceded per game: 0.69

Alexander Guimaraes’ Mumbai City FC are remembered for a deadly front three of Diego Forlan, Sunil Chhetri and Sony Norde and the artistry they produced on the pitch. But a big reason for their success was their defence.

Led by Lucian Goian who was partnered by Anwar Ali in central defence, the Mumbai City FC rearguard have the best defensive record in Hero ISL history. They conceded just 8 goals in the 14-game regular season and gave away just 0.69 goals per game in the entire season. Sehnaj Singh and L Ralte played in the full-back positions. Guimaraes’ men kept nine clean sheets that season, four more than the second-best team in that regard that season. Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh also played a key role in the defensive performance as he often produced big saves at crucial junctures.

The Islanders topped the table after the league stage and were only beaten by eventual winners ATK FC in the semi-finals.

FC Goa (Hero ISL 2014 season)

Goals conceded per game: 0.75

Another team known for their attacking exploits had a solid defensive base to thank for allowing their attackers to thrive.

Zico’s FC Goa scored 21 goals in the inaugural edition of the league but conceded just 12 goals in 16 matches. A defence led by Gregory Arnolin kept seven clean sheets that season, two of which came in the semi-final against eventual winners ATK FC. Bruno Pinheiro partnered Arnolin in central defence as Narayan Das and Debabrata Roy played in the full-back positions. 

Jan Seda was in goal for the Gaurs for most part of the season and was a reliable presence at the back.

ATK FC (Hero ISL 2014 season)

Goals conceded per game: 0.76

Antonio Habas’ ATK FC who beat Zico’s FC Goa in the semi-final on penalties almost matched them in terms of their defensive record that season. Conceding just 13 goals in 17 matches, the Kolkata side kept eight clean sheets that season which included two in the semi-final against FC Goa and one against Kerala Blasters FC in the final.

Led by Josemi, Ofentse Nato and Arnab Mondal, the team was capable of transitioning from a back four to a back three at will. Apoule Edel Bete in goal was excellent as well as ATK FC were a hard nut to crack.

Bengaluru FC (Hero ISL 2019-20 season)

Goals conceded per game: 0.8

Bengaluru FC were at their strongest in Hero ISL 2017-18 and Hero ISL 2018-19 when they topped the table after the league stage but most Hero ISL sides would love to have the defensive solidity displayed by Carles Cuadrat’s side in Hero ISL 2019-20 season.

The Blues just conceded 16 goals in 20 matches keeping 11 clean sheets in the process. Bengaluru FC scored just 22 goals that season which was the joint third-lowest tally in the competition but still made it to the semi-finals, only losing to eventual winners ATK FC.

Led by Juanan and Albert Serran the Blues' defence was equally comfortable in a back four and back three with the versatile Rahul Bheke and Harmanjot Khabra giving them the flexibility.

In goal, the towering presence of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was a big plus for Cuadrat and his team.

ATK Mohun Bagan (Hero ISL 2020-21 season)

Goals conceded per game: 0.82

Another Antonio Habas team that went all the way to the final. While the likes of Roy Krishna, David Williams and Manvir Singh rightly stole the limelight for their exploits up front, it was the defence comprising Tiri, Sandesh Jhingan, Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose that truly made the difference for the Mariners, as did Arindam Bhattacharja in goal.

ATK Mohun Bagan kept ten clean sheets in the season and conceded just 19 goals in 23 matches. They were only beaten by Sergio Lobera’s Mumbai City FC who are one of the most dominant teams to have played in the league.