Anirudh Thapa became Mohun Bagan Super Giant’s first signing of the transfer window. The defending Hero Indian Super League (ISL) champions have chosen to strengthen their midfield, an area that gave head coach Juan Ferrando plenty of problems last season. 

While the troubles were largely down to injuries the team suffered, Ferrando had to adapt to the players available which meant that his team had to give up on their assertive brand of football at times for a more pragmatic approach. 

The Spaniard who is a master tactician eked out a plan suitable for his team as they went on to lift the Hero ISL trophy, something that looked quite unlikely mid-season. 

So the Mariners have plunged into the market and acquired the services of one of the most talented midfielders in India. 

Apart from proven quality and leadership, Thapa brings to the table a quality which is of extreme importance to Ferrando: versatility. In his career spanning over seven years, the midfielder has displayed the ability to mould himself into different tactical systems and successfully play different roles on the pitch. 

So, Thapa could be the man that could allow Ferrando great tactical flexibility without having to compromise on their philosophy. 

The Spaniard played four different formations with the Mariners last season and at least repeated each one more than once. A 4-2-3-1 was his go-to formation having deployed it 13 times in 24 matches last season, but he did also use 4-3-3 six times and formations with a back three on five occasions. 

Thapa in his career has largely played in central midfield thanks to his ability to work the ball while under pressure. He has also been deployed as an attacking midfielder on a few occasions while also playing on the wings at times. The Dehradun-born football is also good at progressing the ball in tight spaces in the attacking third and holding the attack together. 

With the Indian national team, Thapa has been used more as an attacking threat and has even played as a false nine under head coach Igor Stimac. 

The lack of physicality has at times proved to be a bit of a weakness for Thapa but he has overcome the disadvantage with his technical quality and quick thinking when playing as a defensive or a deep-lying midfielder. 

The Mohun Bagan Super Giant faithful will be keen to see where Thapa fits in the scheme of things next season. But taking a look back at how Ferrando likes to operate, here are a few possibilities or roles that the Spaniard can use Thapa as. 

Part of double pivot in a 4-2-3-1

The 4-2-3-1 was Ferrando’s most favoured formation last season and after the success he enjoyed he is likely to stick with that. Carl McHugh and Glan Martins were his favoured duo in midfield but with Thapa, he can have someone more technical on the ball that can help the Mariners retain possession a lot more. The former Chennaiyin FC man is capable of playing at a tempo which is something Ferrando will want to do next season as the fans would demand more goals. 

Playing Thapa in midfield could also free up a foreign slot which Ferrando can use for an additional overseas head in defence or attack. 

A No. 8 in a 4-3-3

Thapa’s arrival can prompt Ferrando to switch to a 4-3-3, a formation he used six times last season. The 25-year-old can operate as a box-to-box midfielder or also as a slightly advanced midfielder in the midfield three with other players who could assume defensive responsibilities a bit more. The position could really suit Thapa as it can unshackle him and allow him to link up with the forward line. 

A 4-3-3 though would mean that Ferrando would have to find a new role for Hugo Boumous who is one of the best attacking midfielders in the league. 

A left or right forward in a 3-4-3 

The midfielder has played as an attacking midfielder at Chennaiyin FC and also with the Indian team and can be a threat in these positions. He can be more effective as inverted forward in a 3-4-3 formation that Ferrando did use a few times last season. 

With the wing-backs providing the width in this formation, Thapa can use his creativity to good effect by staying central but in a much-advanced role. 

Mohun Bagan Super Giant though already have plenty of players like Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan and Kiyan Nassiri who could play in these positions, so it’s unlikely that we will see Thapa there, but it’s certainly an option for Ferrando. 

A second striker in a 3-5-2

Thapa has played as a striker with the Indian national team and has been a menace for defenders thanks to his strong ability to link up the play. 

The Indian international possesses the technical and mental ability to play in this position but Ferrando already has two excellent options in Dimitri Petratos and Boumous who love to play in this position behind the striker so it’s unlikely that Thapa may find himself in the forward line at MBSG, but with the 25-year-old in his ranks, he could use his as a tact to surprise the opponent. 

A winger in a 4-4-2

While the former Chennaiyin FC captain has played on the wings, it’s not the best position for him as he can’t affect the play from out wide as he can with his quality on the ball from the middle of the pitch. He does possess a bag of tricks that can be useful on the wings, but his talent could be wasted with him having to invest a lot of time marking the opposition full-back. 

It’s a formation that Ferrando has never used at the Mariners so this could be the least likely scenario for Thapa. But with Ferrando, no tactical plan can be ruled out.

In whichever position, Ferrando may decide to use Thapa, it is evident that the Indian’s arrival will open up a number of tactical possibilities for a manager who is a master of finding solutions to specific problems. 

It thus goes to show why Mohun Bagan Super Giant moved so quickly to get his signature. 

The Mariners have been the most consistent team over the last three seasons but only have one Hero ISL title to show for their efforts. Anirudh Thapa could prove to be the signing that pushes them to the next level and become a force that will be very hard to stop even for some of the best sides in the league.