Defensive supermen: The best defenders from the Hero ISL 2022-23 season
In a Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season that witnessed a staggering 345 goals, the performances by many defenders slipped under the radar. The Hero ISL 2022-23 season not only provided the platform for upcoming defenders in Indian football, but also saw few established defenders serve a reminder of their quality.
Mumbai City FC, who conceded one of the least number of goals won the Hero ISL League Shield. Meanwhile, ATK Mohun Bagan, who registered the highest number of clean sheets (12), on par with Hyderabad FC, won the Hero ISL trophy.
As an eventful season ends, we look back at the best defenders who stood as a wall for their respective teams:
Akash Mishra (Hyderabad FC)
During their Hero ISL title run last season, Akash Mishra played a stellar role for Hyderabad FC. He started the 2022-23 season, where he left off. Be it his clever positioning, off-the-ball movements, blocking the crosses and making timely tackles, Mishra was right on the money throughout the season.
With 32 successful tackles and 35 interceptions, Mishra topped these charts for Hyderabad FC. He also created nine chances this season, the highest by any Hyderabad FC defender. His lung-bursting runs down the left flank were a constant sight in all of Hyderabad FC's games.
The numbers and statistics stacked by Mishra is nothing new as he had proved his capabilities in the last two seasons, but what the defender added this season was that consistency to his game and proved that he is not a one-season wonder and that he is here to stay.
Mehtab Singh (Mumbai City FC)
The Hero ISL 2022-33 season turned out to be a breakthrough season for Mehtab Singh. Despite playing along with the likes of Mourtada Fall and Rostyn Griffiths, it was young Mehtab Singh who caught the attention of the Hero ISL fans. The 24-year old defender played 21 matches for the Islanders in this League Shield-winning season, more than any other Mumbai City FC defender. This shows the belief the Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham had in him throughout the season.
"The way he (Mehtab Singh) had come on and developed himself, and the way he's gone about what he's done this year, it's been fantastic to see the growth in him as a person, as a player. You look across the league, he's, for me, one of the best young Indian center-backs coming through," said Buckingham.
Singh had 45 blocks and 36 successful tackles to his name. The 24-year-old also bagged the Hero of the match awards in the three straight matches, a feat achieved by no other player this season. As a result, the defender got his first-ever call-up to the Indian national team and made his debut against Myanmar in the Hero Tri-Nation Friendly Football Tournament.
Pritam Kotal (ATK Mohun Bagan)
Playing in the Salt Lake Stadium is a dream for every Kolkata-born footballer, but not everyone can handle the pressure. Playing at his home ground, it was Kotal's penalty that put ATK Mohun Bagan through to the final after a nail-biting shootout against Hyderabad FC.
The Hero ISL 2022-23 season was memorable for Kotal. The defender featured in all their games this season and made 48 interceptions this season, the second-highest by any player in the Hero ISL this campaign.
Odei Onaindia (Hyderabad FC)
Hyderabad FC registered a joint-high tally of 12 clean sheets during the season and Odie Onaindia was a rock at the back for his side as he featured in all their games this season.
Ahead of the season, they lost one of their key players in Asish Rai. During the season, the club missed the services of experienced goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani due to an injury. On the other hand, defender Chinglensana Singh missed half a dozen matches and amidst all these changes, Onaindia was the only constant.
The Spaniard had clocked 1920 minutes on the pitch, the highest by any player at the club this season and had 94 clearances to his name, more than any other HFC player. In addition to his defensive duties, the 33-year-old player had one goal and one assist to his name.
Sandesh Jhingan (Bengaluru FC)
If Bengaluru FC's dream run to the Hero ISL 2022-23 final was the story of the season, Sandesh Jhingan was the glue at the back that held everything together. During the Blues' 10-match winning streak, Jhingan was the commander of their three-man backline as they conceded just six goals during this period.
The 29-year-old defender also registered multiple individual records. His registered 144 clearances, more than any other player in the league. He also made 38 interceptions, more than any other BFC player. Along with this, the defender also recorded 45 tackles to his name.
The defender also netted the winning penalty against Mumbai City FC in the semi-final in the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, sending his side through to their third Hero ISL final.
Asish Rai (ATK Mohun Bagan)
Asish Rai, who signed for the Mariners ahead of the Hero ISL 2022-23 season, featured in all 24 matches for ATK Mohun Bagan. He was arguably the Indian player that impressed the most for his club this campaign.
Rai tops the chart with 54 interceptions, which is the highest by any player in the Hero ISL 2022-23 season. As a modern right-back, he also contributed in the offensive half and created 17 chances, the highest by an ATKMB defender this season.
Anwar Ali (FC Goa)
The quality to play out from the back is a must for the modern center-backs and in India, Ali is one of the best in this business. Ali, who joined FC Goa, during the winter transfer window last season, lived up to his expectations in the FC Goa colors.
In this season, more often than not, Ali initiated attacks for his side from the back line. He had the most number of successful passes (1080) for any player in this season. In addition to the passes, the accuracy of the passes also stood out as the defender registered an impressive passing accuracy of 82.75% this season with 51.7 average passes per game, the highest by any player with more than 1000 passes.
The defender is never afraid of venturing forward too, as he had one goal and two assists to his name. Ali has done his duties effectively with 24 blocks and 23 clearances to his name. The youngster also committed the least number of fouls (five) as a center-back, this season.