Midfielders bear the toughest burden, especially when the game hangs in the balance. They must navigate the delicate balance between orchestrating plays and nullifying opposition attacks.

The 2023-24 Indian Super League (ISL) season showcased a cohort of exceptional midfielders. Their influence transcended mere goal-scoring prowess, as they dominated the midfield battleground, dictating the ebb and flow of each match.

Be it the seasoned veterans or new faces in the league, these midfield maestros bore the weightiest responsibilities and consistently delivered for their respective teams.

With this in mind, here's a rundown of the most impactful midfielders from the 2023-24 season.

Madih Talal (Punjab FC)

Madih Talal, much like his team, initially faced a settling-in period in the new league. However, as the season unfolded, the French playmaker blossomed into a formidable force. His exceptional blend of technical finesse, sudden bursts of speed, and a sharp eye for goal left an indelible mark on nearly every game during the latter half of the league.

His dynamic presence in the midfield played a pivotal role in his team's remarkable resurgence in the second half. The 26-year-old was fortunate to have the support of Luka Majcen and Wilmar Jordan Gil, who capitalized on most of his opportunities. In addition to providing the highest number of assists this season (10), he also notched six goals in his debut season in the ISL.

Brandon Fernandes (FC Goa)

Any midfield list would be incomplete without including Brandon Fernandes, given the impact he creates every time he steps onto the pitch for his side. He played a significant role for his team under new head coach Manolo Marquez. Fernandes may have blossomed late in the season, but he did at the right time.

The FC Goa captain came through on crucial occasions and propelled his side forward in various outings, whether it was against Chennaiyin FC in the playoffs or in the first leg of the semi-final against Mumbai City FC, where he netted two spectacular long-range screamers. The 29-year-old demonstrated exceptional creative abilities by creating 60 chances, averaging three per game. This is the joint-highest in the league along with Dimitri Petratos. Fernandes scored three goals and provided four assists for the Gaurs this season.

Ahmed Jahouh (Odisha FC)

Jahouh is undoubtedly one of the best deep-lying playmakers the league has ever seen. The Moroccan proved his worth during his stints with FC Goa and Mumbai City FC and continues to excel with Odisha FC.

Playing under the familiar face of Sergio Lobera was an added advantage for the midfielder to acclimate to the new environment. Not only was he exceptional in orchestrating play from deep, but he also excelled in the role of a destroyer in midfield.

The 35-year-old made the highest number of successful passes in the league (1367) with 80% accuracy. Creating 47 chances for his side, Jahouh provided four assists and also scored a couple of goals.

Yoell van Nieff (Mumbai City FC)

Filling the shoes of Ahmed Jahouh was always going to be a herculean task. However, Yoell van Nieff proved to be the exact player that the Islanders were looking for. The Dutch midfielder kept his game simple, effortlessly handling all the hard work. Van Nieff ensured that he remained clever in his play, consistently making the right decisions every time he stepped onto the field, adeptly picking out the right passes and avoiding over-complication of the beautiful game.

The 30-year-old averaged 45 passes per game with an accuracy rate of 83%. He contributed with two assists and scored a goal. He also slotted in as a defender whenever called for. Defensively, he won 83 duels, made 15 interceptions, 15 clearances, and registered 130 recoveries in 19 games.

Lalengmawia Ralte (Mumbai City FC)

The star midfielder continued his upward trajectory, delivering yet another stellar season for the Islanders. Apuia displayed clear improvement in ball possession, a testament to his hard work and dedication. Similar to Des Buckingham’s system, the Indian international became a key player for Petr Kratky’s side as well, taking on more offensive responsibilities.

Apuia adeptly fulfilled the duties of a true midfielder, contributing to attacking movements while also undertaking gritty defensive work. He notched up three goal contributions, comprising two assists and one goal. Defensively, he was a stalwart, amassing 135 recoveries, 17 clearances, and 19 interceptions. His standout performance in the ISL Cup victory against Mohun Bagan Super Giant, where he earned the Man of the Match accolade, further underscored his importance to the team.

Mohammed Ali Bemammer (NorthEast United FC)

Bemammer was a powerhouse for his side, featuring in 21 out of the 22 games that the Highlanders played. He rapidly adapted to Juan Pedro Benali's style of play seamlessly, and his dynamic presence was key to their resurgence in the league this season. Bemammer was deployed to screen the defence while also taking charge of the creative role.

He became a vital player for the side due to the leadership and authority he displayed on the field. The Moroccan demonstrated immense strength, physicality, and a strong understanding of the game. He won 113 duels for his side, made 184 recoveries, 34 interceptions, and 56 clearances.

Jeremy Manzorro (Jamshedpur FC)

Another new face in the league who initially faced challenges upon his arrival but flourished once acclimated. The Frenchman emerged as one of the standout players under Khalid Jamil's leadership at Jamshedpur FC.

Operating as a box-to-box midfielder, Manzorro became the chief creator for the Men of Steel, leading the league in chances created for his side with 34. He also proved deadly in set-piece situations, scoring vital goals from free-kicks. The 32-year-old ended the season with five goals and an assist to his name.

Rafael Crivellaro (Chennaiyin FC)

After a couple of quiet seasons in the ISL, Crivellaro returned to form this season. The attacking prowess of the Brazilian was key for Chennaiyin FC, leading them to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. He reached double digits in goal contributions with four goals and seven assists, the second-highest number of assists in the league.

The 35-year-old demonstrated his ability to deliver defence-breaking passes that nobody else could anticipate, and he also looked dangerous in set-piece situations. He created 42 goal-scoring opportunities for his side this season.

Abhishek Suryavanshi (Mohun Bagan Super Giant)

Abhishek Suryavanshi is another footballer to enjoy a breakthrough season. Emerging as a vital cog under Antonio Habas, he was tasked with protecting the Mariners' defence and was quite successful in doing so. Suryavanshi displayed composure and calmness on the ball, key attributes that cemented his place in the playing XI and allowed him to play a major role in their League Shield triumph.

Boasting a strong passing accuracy of 86%, he averaged 34 passes per game, while his defensive work rate ensured the defensive midfielder accounted for 62 recoveries, 26 interceptions, and 15 clearances in the 14 games he featured in this season.

Vibin Mohanan (Kerala Blasters FC)

Vibin Mohanan caught the eye of Ivan Vukomanovic when he made his debut late in the previous season. The 21-year-old has turned out to be a revelation for Kerala Blasters FC this season, really coming into his own in the absence of Jeakson Singh.

Despite enduring a challenging season, Mohanan emerged as one of the brightest sparks for the Blasters. He is technically astute and has the ability to play accurate long balls from the centre of the pitch. Mohanan is one of those players to emerge from the Blasters academy and could be an asset for the side in the coming years. He also has a goal to his name.

Notable Mentions: Isak Vanlalruatfela (Odisha FC), Nestor Albiach (NorthEast United FC), Adrian Luna (Kerala Blasters FC), Saul Crespo (East Bengal FC), Joni Kauko (Mohun Bagan SG), Princeton Rebello (Odisha FC), Jayesh Rane (Mumbai City FC), Souvik Chakrabarti (East Bengal FC), Elsinho (Jamshedpur FC), Javi Hernandez (Bengaluru FC), Joao Victor (Hyderabad FC).