There are 14 midfielders in Igor Stimac’s 28-men Blue Tigers’ squad.

Going into the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, where the Blue Tigers are winless in five games – India are desperate to gather some points from the remaining games. However, while India is ready to go the extra mile in search of points, these remaining matches will certainly be daunting tasks, to say the least.

The first game will be against Asian champions Qatar, arguably the most difficult game for the Blue Tigers. The matches that follow are against Bangladesh and Afghanistan – where India can fancy their chances. There is no doubt in the fact that Igor Stimac’s boys have to be defensively strong to compete well. However, at the end of the day, it’s goals that win matches.

Unless they’re able to create chances and capitalize on them, India can never hope for a win in the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. As a result, their midfield has to be compact and creative to get things flowing.

Almost 50% players are midfielders in India’s 28-man travelling squad. This indicates that Igor Stimac could be planning on playing a formation where the midfield is heavily packed. But who among the midfielders should get picked first? Khel Now takes a look at the options.

Centre-Midfield: Glan Martins

Glan Martins
Martins impressed in FC Goa’s debut AFC Champions League campaign this year

Glan Martins enjoyed a really impressive AFC Champions League 2021 group stage with FC Goa. He was one of the star performers for Juan Ferrando’s side, who impressed everyone in their maiden ACL campaign, thanks to his energetic presence in midfield. Martins is the only debutant in Stimac’s 28-man squad. It won’t be surprising to see him make his national team debut soon.

Among all the midfielders, Martins played the most number of matches in the 2020-21 season. He arguably possesses the most match fitness and is sharper than most of his teammates right now. He also comes at the back of an impressive Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 campaign. In 15 ISL games, he made 66 tackles, 21 clearances and boasted a 76.44% passing accuracy. All this was topped off with an incredible goal against Mumbai City.

Rowllin Borges might feel left out if Martins starts ahead of him – especially after winning the ISL with Mumbai City. In 20 appearances, Borges made 80 tackles, 26 clearances and boasted an 82.47% passing accuracy. He also scored one more goal than Martins.

Pronay Halder was too overly aggressive and error-prone for ATKMB last season. Lalengmawia is still too raw for these big games. Martins, however, has already proven he thrives under pressure at the topmost levels (ACL) and is well-equipped to square off against intimidating midfielders.  

Centre-Midfield: Anirudh Thapa

Despite being only 23, Anirudh Thapa remains one of the most experienced candidates in this India squad. He’s made 25 appearances for the Blue Tigers so far and is a pivotal member of Stimac’s system too.

Thapa had a decent season in the ISL for a struggling Chennaiyin FC side, scoring two goals. He dealt with some fitness issues back then, but is fully fit to feature for the national side now. There also isn’t much competition for his role in the team.

Thapa is not only defensively gritty with his impressive pressing, but also adds a creative punch. He can create things with some clutch final third passes, something which not many can in this team. Suresh Singh Wangjam is still too inexperienced for this stage and doesn’t possess the composure of Thapa.

Lalengmawia is also not efficient enough to play over the Chennaiyin FC man. With Glan by his side, Thapa can help India control possession more and create things with his exquisite through balls and set pieces.

Attacking-Midfield: Brandon Fernandes

Fernandes is more accurate with his final third passes than Sahal and doesn’t waste opportunities as much

Brandon Fernandes is the most technically adept midfielder in Indian football right now. He possesses the quality of an overseas player and has proven his quality against prominent oppositions too. Fernandes displayed a string of impressive performances in FC Goa’s ACL campaign.

He assisted both their goals, which were scored all thanks to his brilliant deliveries into the final third. Moreover, his passing accuracy and defensive output were also consistently impressive.

Brandon only played 12 games in the ISL last season due to fitness issues. But even in such a short sample space, he registered three assists and created many big goal-scoring chances in every game. Brandon’s closest competitor in that role is probably Sahal Abdul Samad, who registered three assists in 14 games for Kerala Blasters last season.

Fernandes is more accurate with his final third passes than Sahal and doesn’t waste opportunities as much. Moreover, Brandon’s set-piece delivery and brilliant long-balls are unmatched in this squad. Along with Thapa, he should work as the creative engine for India and help set up opportunities for his teammates against the big sides at the World Cup Qualifiers.

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