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A sea change in the trend of Indian midfielders this ISL season, is Constantine watching?

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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This season, homegrown midfielders have improved a lot, with the added impetus on shooting from distance adding to their adventurous streak on the pitch.

Anirudh Thapa has risen in a herculean way to the Indian midfield setup over the last 12 months, eclipsing Rowlin Borges, Md. Rafique and several other contemporaries of his to the starting XI. While his club season hasn’t really seen a strong reciprocation of the same, Thapa doesn’t look flustered, with coach John Gregory regularly entrusting him with added responsibilities.

That and another trend, holds the Indian midfield in good stead. Homegrown midfielders have played a more important role in their teams’ attacks in the Indian Super League, or so it looks on paper. Khel Now went a little deeper into the stats and found a similar picture, that resonated with something that has been widely seen on the pitch. (Stats included are until Saturday, December 8)

Midfielders have seen their roles improved, with the added impetus on shooting from distance this season, adding to their adventurous streak on the pitch. Most teams, except Jamshedpur FC, FC Goa and FC Pune City have gone back to the almost-forgotten trick that had slowly crept out of the game due to its low output percentage. This season though, coaches have given players more freedom in this respect.

Another tactic that has come in is the allowance for midfielders to bomb forward into the box or in and around areas just outside the box. Keeping the conversion rate out of the discussion, it is important to see that these two changes have seen Indian midfielders playing a more advanced role than usual and that could help them in their preparations for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup.

In this piece, though, we will look at all the midfielders who have seen a change in role as well as getting additional freedom and with that, have responded positively to the situation. Let’s start with former Mohun Bagan midfielder Raynier Fernandes.

Raynier is certainly a national team prospect in the years to come

A defensive midfielder, or a defensive-minded central midfielder at best, Raynier threads Mumbai City's defence to their attack. The 22-year-old has taken control beyond his years and the way he is making runs into and around the box to support his team’s forward line is commendable. That has already helped Raynier get two goals in three starts, something he achieved in 17 games for Mohun Bagan in the previous season. Certainly a national team prospect in the years to come.

Harmanjot Singh Khabra, who started as a right wing-back at Bengaluru FC, is marshaling Bengaluru’s midfield alongside Erik Paartalu at the moment. Given the impetus to attack or contribute ahead, Khabra has made three assists with just half of the season played. Last year, he had just one assist to his name, with no goals, in the entire ISL season.



Khabra has made three assists with just half of the ISL season played

Moving on, Thapa and his team have had a forgettable first half of the season. Nothing much though, in terms of numbers, has changed for the midfielder. He has matched his assists from last campaign already and has a 12% higher pass completion rate this term. Thapa has already created more big chances on average than last season, with his strikers fluffing their lines.

One of his teammates though, has managed some very strong displays. Winger Thoi Singh has scored four goals already for his side, while also providing an assist. The player had nothing on display last season, in terms of goals and assists. His passing has improved as well, making him a better player in a languishing side.


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Another South Indian club Kerala Blasters have seen a youngster rise up and influence proceedings well. Sahal Abdul Samad has scored none and has not assisted any either. However, he has taken 1.4 shots on goal every game, the highest rank in the Indian midfielders’ table in the league. Certainly impressive for a 21-year-old midfielder in a defensively lopsided team. Due to his impressive string of performances this season, the youngster was named in the preliminary Indian squad for the AFC Asian Cup.

By the numbers, Pronay Halder hasn’t done justice to his talent in an attacking sense. Halder, though, has made 1.7 interceptions per game this season, compared to the meager 0.4 he notched up last campaign. It is a marked development and will certainly help India’s balance in international fixtures. Halder has proven yet again why he’s pivotal to Stephen Constantine’s ideas.

Halder has become very pivotal to Constantine's plans

The hero of the story, arguably, has to be Rowllin Borges. Zero goals, zero assists and a passing percentage of 80% last season made him a player you’d expect more from. He’s delivered and how- and Eelco Schattorie must be credited for this. Borges has scored twice, assisted twice and has a passing success rate of 85.4%, making him one of the best movers of the ball in the country. That’s a massive, massive jump.

Lenny Rodrigues, meanwhile, has improved upon his already impressive passing stats. From 85% successful passes per game last season, Rodrigues has moved to 90%, comfortably one of the best recyclers in India. Lenny’s role though, hasn’t changed a lot under Sergio Lobera, who still goes with Ferran Corominas, Ahmed Jahouh and Edu Bedia as his trusted lieutenants in attack. Brandon Fernandes and Jackichand Singh, too, have contributed heavily, but the pair were never in the bracket of central midfielders.

It bodes well for Indian football, certainly, and Constantine must be taking note of the same. This would help the gaffer create the right support before and during the Asian Cup. His choices for the Oman and Syria friendlies will almost certify his lineup that already looks decided on paper. Can one of these, big movers impress the big man?

Published: Fri Dec 21, 2018 12:11 PM IST

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