Several players are staking their claim for the award with some scintillating performances.

The 2022-23 Indian Super League (ISL) season has already provided it all. Great goals, comebacks, late drama and huge score-lines have driven the narrative for this season so far and it looks set to continue with the season close to its halfway mark.

The competition in the league continues to grow as the teams are placed so close to each other in the league table. Defending champions Hyderabad FC are currently atop the standings although they’ve played a game more than any other team in the league. Mumbai City occupy the second spot and are only a point behind Hyderabad FC. ATK Mohun Bagan, Kerala Blasters, Odisha FC and FC Goa occupy the other playoff qualification spots.

The league has seen and been home to plenty of talents over the years, both experienced and emerging. There have been some wonderful performances across the board this season, but a few have been there time and again for their sides so far this season. As a result, these players have staked their claim to be the MVP (Most Valuable Player) for their side. Such players would be conferred the Player of the League award at the end of the season.

Plenty of chances but no finished product

So, let’s take a look at the players who look favourites to win the Player of the League award this season.

6. Ivan Kaliuzhnyi

Ivan Kaliuzhnyi has been an incredible find for Kerala Blasters this season. Despite playing in midfield and dropping even deeper at times, Kaliuzhnyi is the second highest goal-scorer this season for the Men in Yellow.

Ivan Kaliuzhnyi en route to score a pile-driver against FC Goa. (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Despite being only 24, Kaliuzhnyi possesses maturity in his gameplay way beyond his years. His ability to dictate gameplay and be at the right place at the right time has proven invaluable for Ivan Vukomanovic’s system. The Ukrainian completes close to 38 passes a game at an accuracy of 78.69%. He is no slouch without the ball either, winning 19 tackles so far in the league. His tally is the highest by any Kerala Blasters player and the second highest in the league (behind Ahmed Jahouh’s 21).

If the 24-year-old can continue his form this season, he could inspire Ivan Vukomanovic’s side to greater heights and success that the club and it’s insatiable fanbase craves for.

5. Hugo Boumous

No discussion about the Golden Ball award is complete without the mercurial Hugo Boumous. The Frenchman has been one of the best players in the league since his arrival. Boumous’ quality is already evidenced by the fact that he has won the award previously in the 2019-20 season.

Boumous continues to be an instrumental presence for ATK Mohun Bagan. The 27-year old has both scored and assisted thrice in nine games so far. He has also created 31 chances, the most in the league for the Mariners. Boumous’ importance in the side has grown following the season-ending injury to fellow midfielder Joni Kauko.

Provided he continues to push ATK Mohun Bagan higher up the table, Boumous is very likely to compete for the award this season too.

4. Jorge Pereyra Diaz

Pereyra Diaz has been lethal for Mumbai City and is reaping benefits of playing with a quality support line in Greg Stewart, Ahmed Jahouh and Bipin Singh.

Jorge Pereyra Diaz celebrating his goal against FC Goa. (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Diaz has attempted only 14 shots this season with only eight of them on target. But six of them have resulted in goals for him. The Argentine is already en route to better his last season’s tally of eight goals and an assist while with the Kerala Blasters. But Pereyra Diaz is more than just a traditional #9. Off the ball, the Argentine has won five tackles this season, more than defenders like Mehtab Singh and Mourtada Fall (he hasn’t featured much though).

Therefore, his work rate and pressing ability has helped Des Buckingham’s side pressurize the opposition up front and dominate proceedings at will. The 32-year-old has proven himself to be a valuable part of the side with his goals and work rate. His feats combined with Mumbai City’s rollicking start to the season make him a favourite to bag the award come the end of the season.

3. Noah Sadaoui

FC Goa’s tradition of adding top talent to their side over the years continues with the find of Noah Sadaoui. The Moroccan has been an inspired addition and is a vital cog of Carlos Pena’s side this season.

The 29-year old has contributed a goal or an assist every 72.5 minutes in the ISL 2022-23, among the best this season. Noah has created 13 chances so far, the second-highest in the FC Goa squad behind Edu Bedia. His dribbling and ability to find the right pass at the right time has caused havoc to opposition defences this season. The Gaurs will hope for his form to continue. If he continues this form, Noah could become the third FC Goa player to win the award after Ferran Corominas and Hugo Boumous.

2. Greg Stewart

Greg Stewart continues to impress in the league since his arrival last season. The defending Player of the League award winner dazzled at Jamshedpur FC last season and has continued his form now at Mumbai City.

Greg Stewart in action against Kerala Blasters. (Courtesy: ISL Media)

As expected, Stewart’s name features highly among almost all stats related to passing and chance creation. The creative engine of Mumbai City tops the assists’ chart with six this season. He has however, scored only twice this season but tops the chart for the most shots on target, with 18.

He has created 31 chances this season, the joint-highest in the league (with Boumous) and contributed to a goal every 95 minutes. His xG+xA tally of 0.54 is the second-highest in the Mumbai squad, only behind Jorge Pereyra Diaz. Greg Stewart’s continued exploits lead to his side facing upwards and onwards and the Scotsman will look to double up on his award from last season.

1. Nasser El Khayati

Nasser El Khayati has been an electrifying presence for Chennaiyin FC this season. The Dutchman has been punishing defences with his dizzying dribbling ability as well his overall gameplay.

In only six games this season, El Khayati has scored seven goals (top-scorer in the league) and assisted four times. Incredibly, El Khayati has contributed to a goal every 29 minutes! He recently broke the record for the most goal contributions in a single game with five against NorthEast United.

The 33-year-old dominates almost every statistic this season – from most goals to the most dribbles. El Khayati completes close to three dribbles a game and his xG of 0.67 and xG+xA of 0.87 are the third-highest in the league behind teammate Kwame Karikari and FC Goa’s Alvaro Vazquez.

El Khayati will be critical to Chennaiyin FC’s fortunes this season. He has allowed the side to overcome their goalscoring rut from the last two seasons and has been a key proponent of Thomas Brdaric’s intent to dominate possession and look to build and score quickly. The Dutchman with his incredible start to the season is the leading prospect to win the Player of the League award. But that would be contingent to the fact that he leads his side to the playoffs and deep into the season.

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