The Indian Super League (ISL) provides a fantastic opportunity for players to establish themselves in the country’s football landscape. It has certainly been home to some exciting talents and continues to do so.
Liston Colaco, Anirudh Thapa, and Brandon Fernandes, to name a few, stole the limelight in the past. This season, we have witnessed the likes of Lallianzuala Chhangte, Bipin Singh, Mohammad Yasir, and several others showcase their ability on the biggest stage in Indian football.
These stars have been influential in their teams but there are often players who go under the radar despite being a vital cog for their sides to function. We look at three players whose performances have been outstanding during the 2022-23 ISL campaign but frequently go unnoticed.
#1 Hitesh Sharma – Hyderabad FC
Manolo Marquez has built a side that is known for their organization at the back while being clinical up front. The likes of Bartholomew Ogbeche, Halicharan Narzary, Borja Herrera, and Mohammad Yasir have pinned the opposition back with their skill set. However, doing the dirty work, out of possession, in the middle of the park falls to Hitesh Sharma.
The 25-year-old has been a key figure in the side for the past three years but his game time was limited last season. Nevertheless, he has bounced back in time for Hyderabad FC’s title charge. Additionally, the influential Herrera tends to drift wide and deliver dangerous crosses into the box, making Hitesh’s role crucial.
His importance is certainly stated by the fact that Herrera and the full-backs are allowed the attacking freedom while he sits back and protects his central defenders. Hitesh is one step ahead of his opponents, courtesy of his positional awareness, and is a huge reason why the Nizams have conceded the fewest goals in the league.
#2 Redeem Tlang – FC Goa
After a season where he made just two starts, Redeem Tlang has become a key cog in Carlos Pena’s machine this term. The Spanish manager has started him on the right flank because of his pace and energy, but more importantly, due to his ability to put in the hard yards for his side.
Tlang has appeared in 14 games, starting 11 of those and scoring thrice. Furthermore, he has won the most tackles among midfielders and is ranked inside the top 5 in the league. The 27-year-old has a specific role to hold the width to create space for the midfielders and he has certainly delivered.
The former Odisha FC player appears to have fully grasped his role and is beginning to improve his goal tally as well. Against Hyderabad FC, he arrived in the box like a poacher and scored an excellent goal to level the scores.
Tlang then followed it up with another outstanding finish against the Kerala Blasters. The midfielder’s confidence is growing and he will look to kick it up a notch as the season progresses.
#3 Naorem Mahesh Singh – East Bengal FC
East Bengal FC have been struggling to get results this season as Stephen Constantine appears to have run out of ideas. But every dark cloud has a silver lining, and for the Red and Gold Brigade, it’s Naorem Singh Mahesh’s performances.
The 23-year-old has been influential in attack alongside Cleiton Silva. He has already made five assists and scored once, but his presence on the left flank poses trouble for any opposing full-back.
Moreover, Mahesh ranks first for East Bengal FC in several statistical metrics, including chances created (17) and expected assists (xA).
Constantine’s team has a compact defensive structure and break quickly. Mahesh is usually the target during counter-attacks as his side look to use his pace and trickery to progress to the final third.
In a season in which the Red and Gold Brigade have failed to impose themselves, Mahesh has shown promise and signs of developing into an important player at the club.