He netted his maiden goal for Mumbai City FC in the Durand Cup 2022, helping his side reach the final. And just six games into the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season, Lalengmawia Ralte scored his first Hero ISL goal for Mumbai City FC, during their massive 4-0 against Bengaluru FC.

One of the finest young talents in the country, Ralte has already achieved quite a lot in his fledgling career. He shone for NorthEast United FC from 2019-21, becoming the youngest player to captain a Hero ISL club. His tenacity, tireless work rate and composure in the middle of the park saw him bag the Hero ISL Emerging Player award during the Hero ISL 2020-21 season as the Highlanders reached the semi-final.

Apuia has featured regularly for MCFC under Des Buckingham since his signature, adding steel and guile to their midfield. The Aizawl-born midfielder was one of the few Indian players that stood out for Mumbai City FC as they registered two wins in their historic AFC Champions League 2022 campaign, finishing second in their group. Ahead of the Hero ISL 2022-23 season, Apuia also took part in a two-week training stint with Belgian side Lommel SK owned by the City Football Group.

This season under Buckingham, Apuia has been playing much advanced than his previous Hero ISL seasons. In his first three Hero ISL seasons, he averaged 0.66 shots per 90 minutes. This season, that number has shot up to 1.82 shots per 90 minutes. In terms of chances, the midfielder has also created more chances every 90 minutes this season than any of his previous seasons in the league.

Apart from his defensive duties, Apuia has displayed the tendency to bomb up front and link up with his teammates. He is currently averaging 15.64 attacking third touches per 90, while in his first three seasons, he never registered more than seven attacking third touches per 90 minutes.

At a tender age of 22, Apuia has already featured in over 50 Hero ISL games, but has just scored on just two occasions. The midfielder is further looking to build on his tally after a goal early on this season, and hopes to contribute more.

In an exclusive chat with the indiansuperleague.com after the game against Bengaluru FC, Apuia spoke about his first Hero ISL goal for the Islanders, his role in midfield, his stint with Lommel SK, and more.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

You scored your first Hero ISL goal for the club. What are your thoughts?

I want to contribute goals and assists as a midfielder. It is one of my targets. I am very happy to score my first goal for the club and I hope to score more.

Can you describe your partnership with Greg Stewart and Ahmed Jahouh in midfield?

It is going well. Playing with one of the best players in the league is always an advantage for us. I am really enjoying it. I hope we keep doing well for the entire season. Last season, we started well, but we went down in the second phase of the season and I hope it doesn’t repeat again.

What have you got to learn from the likes of Stewart and Jahouh?

For me, I need to improve my positioning, as they can make good passes. They are good players, so I need to adjust myself by being at the right place and expect for the ball.

Do you notice any change in your game after your training stint with Belgian club Lommel SK?

Yes, I am playing a lot more forward than last season, where I used to make a lot of backpasses. That has changed a little this season. I cannot say completely, but it has changed. And also the intensity of my game has changed. I have improved a lot after going there.

Tactically, what changes do you see from last season?

We have started this season well. There has not been much of a difference (tactically) compared to last season, but we have Stewart who can control the game and create chances. Last season, we were lacking someone who could create a lot of chances in the attacking midfield. We also play with two defensive midfielders (myself and Jahouh), so we were a bit defensive (last season), but this season, we have been attacking more. That’s the difference.

MCFC have different forwards with different styles - Jorge Diaz, Greg Stewart, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Bipin Singh. As a midfielder, how do you adapt your game to these forwards?

It’s not too different, the way we approach the game. The role of the attacking midfielder is to link up with the midfielders. If the wingers drop back, the midfielders can play further forward and vice versa. It’s not too difficult to adapt.