The phase of matches saw some inspired performances from the domestic talents.
As the I-League slowly moves into the business end of the season, the quality of the games and players is also increasing with each passing match. The last few weeks served up some end-to-end, high-scoring matches which tightened up things at the top of the table. While NEROCA FC regained confidence with crucial wins, Churchill Brothers and Real Kashmir are also flying high.
However, it’s the performances of the Indian players which stood out on certain occasions in this phase, proving how the top flight is consistently producing exciting domestic talents.
Here is our I-league Team of Phase Fou:
Goalkeeper: Lalit Thapa (NEROCA FC)
Lalit Thapa has reasserted himself as NEROCA’s #1 and pulled off some commendable performances to help his side earn three wins in the last few weeks. Thapa was solid against Shillong, making crucial saves and preventing the young attackers from fazing his confidence. He earned a well-deserved clean-sheet against Indian Arrows, making some stellar stops. Lalit was as alert as ever against the dangerous Churchill Brothers, helping neutralize their attacking threat with some confident saves and calmness on the ball.
Right-Back: Souvik Das (Minerva Punjab)
Souvik Das is turning into a real asset for Minerva Punjab and upon his return to his home state of West Bengal, he aimed to make a statement against East Bengal. Das was rock-solid on the right-side, completely nullifying Brandon Vanlalremdika’s threat and not allowing the winger to operate freely. He was calm with his distribution, whilst also moving forward with vigour. Das did a superb job in earning a clean-sheet for his side, while also ousting the Red and Gold Brigade in their own backyard.
I-League Team of Phase Four
Salam Ranjan earned his first start of the season against Gokulam Kerala and proved why he ought to be starting more often. The India international was extremely composed at the back, tracking Rajesh’s movement brilliantly and isolating the clinical striker. He made some important clearances and tackles to bail his side out of trouble, while he looked confident on the ball as well. Despite not earning a clean-sheet, Singh gave an encouraging performance, which must’ve impressed Stephen Constantine before the Asian Cup.
Indian Arrows might’ve faced a relatively out-of-form opposition in Aizawl FC, but they had to work hard to earn a result against them. Arrows looked solid defensively, countering Aizawl’s attacking threat really well and Jitendra Singh especially looked up to the task. The centre-back gave an impressive showing, containing Mapuia really well and stopping some of Aizawl’s attacks. He helped to earn a rare clean-sheet for his side and prove their improving defensive solidity.
Left-Back: Abhash Thapa (Real Kashmir)
Abhash Thapa is proving to be one of the finds of the season in the I-league and has maintained impressive consistency in his defending. He gave a gritty display against Aizawl, isolating Albert from creating anything through the left. Thapa put in some crucial defensive work to earn the clean-sheet against Aizawl, but things were much easier against Shillong Lajong. Not only did he nullify Shillong’s attacking threat, but he also moved forward with confidence to help Nagen Tamang terrorize their defence and played a part in their thumping win.
Central Midfield: Saran Singh (NEROCA FC)
Like NEROCA FC, Saran Singh has also picked up his form in the month of December and produced some glowing performances in midfield for the Orange Army. Saran helped to keep things calm against Shillong, doing clever work in midfield. He also thrived in a deeper role against Indian Arrows and Churchill Brothers, allowing Aryn Williams the freedom to deliver four assists in those two games. Saran’s work-rate and intelligence enabled him to be a livewire in NEROCA’s midfield, hunting down attacks and distrupting play superbly.
Central Midfield: Lalrindika Ralte (East Bengal)
Lalrindika Ralte proved himself as the creative lynchpin for East Bengal in a superb performance against Gokulam Kerala, where he pulled the strings amazingly. Dika showed impressive ability to create from deep while also going forward, as his first assist was a through-ball which split open Gokulam’s defence and allowed Jobby Justin to score. Ralte sparked many counter-attacks in the second half and cleverly passed it to Lalramchullova to wrap up the game, earning two precious assists which boosted his own confidence.
Right-Wing: Subhash Singh (NEROCA FC)
The experienced Subhash has definitely played a crucial role in NEROCA’s resurgence this month and gave some great performances in the past few matches. He looked really dangerous against Shillong Lajong with his movement and scored the vital winner to earn his side an important three points. Subhash also turned up the style against the Arrows, delivering a clever cross for Katsumi Yusa’s opener, while also terrorizing Churchill Brothers with his pace and trickery. He gave some inspired showings which proved how important he is in NEROCA’s attacking third.
Attacking Midfield: Israil Gurung (Churchill Brothers)
Israil Gurung’s proving his attacking ability for Churchill Brothers this season and gave another glittering performance in front of national team coach Constantine against Aizawl. His set-piece prowess was proved when his free-kick beat everyone and allowed Khalid Aucho to blast the ball into the net. He then got on the end of Dawda Ceesay’s cross to score a brilliant header and looked eager to create more chances for the Red Machines throughout his stint. Gurung was awarded the Hero of the Match for his heroics.
Left-Wing: Nagen Tamang (Real Kashmir)
Another rising talent from the pool of Real Kashmir, Nagen Tamang made quite the impression in a scintillating display against Shillong Lajong. After threatening quite often in the narrow win against Aizawl, Tamang looked intent on doing something to thwart Shillong. He scored his first I-League goal thanks to some clever movement and beautiful finishing. Tamang also assisted later in the game, when his inch-perfect cross found Surchandra to add another to his tally, as Nagen won the Hero of the Match for his brilliant performance.
Striker: Jobby Justin (East Bengal)
Jobby Justin is having a superb season so far for East Bengal, leading the line incredibly well and not letting the lack of a foreign striker deter them. After drawing blanks against Minerva Punjab, Jobby came to life against Gokulam. He linked-up with his attacking partners superbly to setup Brandon’s opener, before making a clever run to go past Gokulam’s defenders and score his fourth of the season. Jobby was always in the thick of things in attack, with his performance earning him the Hero of the Match award.