The 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) returns on November 19th. To whet up our appetites, let's have a look at the five players we believe you should watch out for this season:
There are very few certainties in life. Death, taxes... and Roy Krishna fashioning a goal out of nothing to ensure ATK Mohun Bagan win 1-0. His remarkable consistency is something that Antonio Habas is sure to depend upon once more, even though there's not much mystery left to Krishna's powers.
But therein lies his excellence - despite the rest of the league knowing exactly how he operates for well over two seasons now, there's simply no stopping him. Krishna was joint top-scorer (14 goals) and joint top assist-maker (8 assists) last season. What stands out is that he was involved in 68.75% of the goals ATK Mohun Bagan scored last year. There were times when it felt the number was closer to 100%.
Now with Hugo Boumous behind him, the chances are only likely to increase.
Yes, his powers are fading. Yes, his scoring record isn't what it used to be. Yes, he's playing in a Bengaluru side that are a shadow of what they once were.
However, it's still Sunil Chhetri.
Let me correct that, Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Sunil Chhetri. The first, and only footballer to ever receive that honour. However blithe the phrase may be, however often it's repeated ad-nauseum, he remains: Captain, Leader, Legend.
There is an element of nostalgia when it comes to discussing the Bengaluru stalwart, with plenty viewing his performances of late through rose-tinted glasses. Yet, with 8 goals last year, Chhetri still had his fair share of memorable moments, finishing seventh in the ISL's top goal-scorers list.
Marco Pezzaiouli has vowed to bring a high-pressing, high-tempo feel to Bengaluru FC; just where that leaves Chhetri with his aging legs, one cannot predict. Perhaps the energy of Bidyashagar and the youngsters around him can compensate, with Chhetri operating in a free role he's come to prefer as the years have caught up.
Whether he explodes into goal-scoring form like we already know he can, or whether we witness a painful decline, Chhetri remains one of the most intriguing players to watch this season.
On his day, Hugo Boumous is the best player in the ISL.
It's not hyperbole, he is just that good. The problem, however, is that those days are more London bus than the ever-dependable Tokyo metro. Yet, poaching Boumous from Mumbai City remains one of ATK Mohun Bagan's pre-season masterstrokes, solving the club's problem area while significantly weakening a rival.
Boumous' creativity is unparalleled, and with Roy Krishna's lethality up top... well, one fears for the league's defenders.
There could be a fly in the ointment though - Boumous' defensive actions per 90 are one of the lowest in the league, and not in line with what Antonio Habas demands from his players. The 26-year-old is hardly likely to change his game, especially given his reportedly 2Cr price tag, but it could weaken one of Bagan's best attributes.
On the other hand, with Liston Colaco and Joni Kauko coming in to join David Walliams and Manvir Singh, we could very well be witnessing a dynasty being built. You could make a very educated bet that Boumous would be at the heart of that.
It's hard to believe Anirudh Thapa is embarking on his sixth season with Chennaiyin FC. There seems to be an air of butterfly-emerging-from-cocoon this time, though, with Chennaiyin FC boss Bozidar Bandovic handing him the armband.
He will have to kick on quite a bit this year, especially after an injury-hit season last year curtailed his effectiveness. There is a reason Chennaiyin only finished eighth, with the fewest goals scored (17) in a season where their creativity was under the scanner. It's a lot to ask of the youngster to be the club's creative fulcrum as well as shoulder the expectations of a demanding fanbase that wants to win. Thapa has never shied away from the hard tasks though, he was plunged into the deep end in Chennaiyin's title winning run in 2017-18 and responded with instrumental performances.
Come the end of this season, Thapa will have turned 24, and perhaps the 'boy wonder' moniker will have to be retired. One can only hope it's for good reasons.
Despite having won the ISL league title and playoffs with Mumbai City last year, it's revelatory that Bartholomew Ogbeche holds the 2018-19 campaign with NEUFC in higher esteem. The perennial underdogs finished in the semifinals for the first time ever that season, and 36-year-old Ogbeche will be aiming to repeat that feat with Hyderabad FC this year.
He is already the third highest goal-scorer in the history of the ISL with 35 goals, behind Chhetri on 47 and Ferran 'Coro' Corominas on 48. One wouldn't put it past Ogbeche overhauling that record this season, especially with Manolo Marquez' penchant for unearthing new Indian midfield talents.
Ogbeche shared striking duties with Adam Le Fondre for Mumbai City last season, which meant fewer opportunities on the pitch. He scored eight times and provided three assists in 957 minutes on the pitch, being involved in a goal every 87 minutes. A similar return would be a godsend for Hyderabad, as they have an Aridane Santana-shaped hole in their frontline. Ogbeche is now their undisputed first-choice striker, and it'll be intriguing to see if he can shoulder the responsibilities of leading the line in another grueling season without fans.
Will Ogbeche age like wine, or like milk? We can only find the answer on the pitch.