Lallianzuala Chhangte, NorthEast United FC forward
Lallianzuala made his debut for India at the age of 18, picked by national coach Stephen Constantine for the squad despite having never played the Indian Super League or any match in the I-League. Zuala's biggest claim to fame till then had been finishing as the topscorer of the Under-19 I-League, where he had scored 16 goals for Pune-based club DSK Shivajians. His impact was immediate, though, impressing in his first appearance as a substitute against Sri Lanka, when he was employed as a winger. A couple of days later, he would do even better, coming on as a sub again and scoring two delightful goals that not only helped India beat Nepal 4-1 after having trailed 1-0 early, but also wrote his name into the record books as the second-youngest scorer in international football for India.
This will be Zuala's first season in the top echelons of Indian football, and he will be looked at to lead a youthful NorthEast attacking line-up. The fact that his coach for this season Nelo Vingada has ample experience of working with youth -- having been assistant to Carlos Queiroz when Portugal picked up two World Youth Championship titles in 1989 and 1991 -- his handling of a versatile attacking talent like Lallianzuala could make things interesting for NEUFC.
Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chennaiyin FC forward
It was a tough call to pick one of several influential Indian players for the defending champions, but it would be unwise to leave out the only Indian player with a double-digit tally in the ISL. Jeje scored four as Chennaiyin topped the league stages in 2014. A year on, Jeje juggled responsibilities for the national team remarkably well with the ISL, scoring six goals and registering three assists as Chennaiyin strung together five consecutive wins to eventually win the title.
Jeje, who played a little wide, combined well with Stiven Mendoza and Bruno Pelissari, especially when Elano Blumer was relegated to the bench by coach Marco Materazzi. Jeje went on to win the 2015 Emerging Player of the League award, and his ability to score critical goals for both club and country will give the champions an added edge, especially now that Elano, Mendoza and Pelissari are no longer with them.
Rino Anto, Kerala Blasters defender
2016 will be a homecoming of sorts for Rino Anto, who hails from Thrissur in Kerala but has made most of his professional career playing outside. The India and Bengaluru FC right-back, who played for Atletico de Kolkata last season, will be a welcome addition to the backline for Kerala Blasters, who had a run to forget in 2015. Most of the blame could be pinned on a porous defence, even though regular right-back Rahul Bheke himself was quite impressive for them.
Anto likes to move forward, and his crosses from the right are invariably low and precise, which test the best defences in the process. With Mohammad Rafi as a possible target-man, Anto's inclusion will increase the Kerala team's options in attack, while also bolstering their defence with a man who takes no prisoners when called upon to defend. Kerala Blasters will be happy when Anto joins the team after his AFC Cup commitments for Bengaluru FC come to an end.
Mandar Rao Desai, FC Goa midfielder
If winger Romeo Fernandes was the flavour of the first ISL season for FC Goa, his left-sided counterpart Mandar was the man Zico turned to in 2015. Goa's love affair with Mandar began early, as he scored off Romeo's assist in the 2-0 win over Delhi Dynamos in the club's opening match of the season. He chipped in with two more important goals, contributing to away wins against NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters, and was a constant nuisance for opponents with his impact on the left flank.
Zico likes to operate with a 3-5-2, and Mandar forms an important part of that five-man midfield by linking defence with attack. Short and wiry in frame, it is his confidence to dribble past defenders that makes him an awkward customer to deal with.
Amrinder Singh, Mumbai City FC goalkeeper
The former Atletico de Kolkata goalkeeper has been part of a like-for-like transfer with Mohun Bagan's Debjit Majumder for this season, and with Subrata Paul also moving from Mumbai to NorthEast United, Amrinder should be the first-choice goalkeeper once he's available following his AFC Cup commitments for Bengaluru FC.
Amrinder started 13 games for Atletico de Kolkata and with 40 saves to his name, he was one of the best keepers in the league. While he had only one clean sheet to show for it, he kept Atletico in a number of matches, including the second leg of the semi-finals against Chennaiyin, where they trailed 3-0 on aggregate and clawed back to make it 2-3 with four minutes to go. In the last minute of regulation time, Amrinder would come off his line to take a set piece, but a deflection landed it at the feet of Fikru Teferra, and his decisive goal for Chennaiyin was the 16th conceded by Amrinder. This year, he would hope to avoid any such lapse as Mumbai hope to make the top four for the first time.