ATK, Chennaiyin dominate ISL Team of the Season

Saikat Das / SPORTZPICS for ISL

Here is our team of the 2019-20 ISL season, picked with the intention of having a reasonable ability to actually play well together on the pitch if the hypothetical scenario ever came through. Of course, there have been minor alterations and some imagination added to the mix, but we are reasonably confident that the team makes rational sense playing in this 4-2-3-1 formation. And yes, as per ISL rules, there are only five foreigners in the team.

Goalkeeper: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu [Bengaluru FC]

If Bengaluru FC made the playoffs, they owed it in no small measure to their last line of defence -- and quite often the first line of attack, given the length on his kicks and clearances. BFC won just two of their first five games, and travelled to Pune for a tricky away game to Odisha FC in early December, and Sandhu underlined his importance in a narrow 1-0 win with a string of superb saves. He pulled off a double save off a corner, got a firm hand to a rifle shot across the posts and kept a fluent Odisha attack at bay. Sandhu kept 11 clean sheets, the most for any goalkeeper this season, four of them in away games. - DS

Right back: Prabir Das (ATK)

Having missed last season through injury, Prabir Das came into the season with a point to prove. And boy, did he do that. Flying up and down the right, Das was exceptional all season long. Defensively solid, his consistently pinpoint crossing made him one of ATK's primary attacking weapons. Easily one of the 'finds' of the season. - AM

Centre back: Pritam Kotal [ATK]

Another ATK defender who found his best form in a slightly rejigged position as the right sided centre-back in Habas' back three; we have appropriated him as our team of the season's right centre-back. Sharing a natural understanding with Das, Kotal was one of the mainstays of an ATK defence plagued with injuries and unavailability of key players. He was excellent throughout as ATK whipped up the second best defense in the league, without compromising on attacking threat - AM

Centre back: Juanan [Bengaluru FC]

Like his goalkeeper, Juanan featured in all but one of BFC's games, and kept things steady at centre back. His role was particularly crucial in the early stages of the campaign, when Erik Paartalu's absence meant the team had to keep a fragile defence-midfield balance in mind when picking their foreign players. BFC were a bit clumsy in defence and it often fell to Juanan to provide the necessary calm, and he even chipped in with the winner in the match against Odisha mentioned before. He missed the penultimate league stage game away to Kerala Blasters through suspension, one of only three defeats for them this calendar year. - DS

Left back: Jerry Lalrinzuala [Chennaiyin FC]

An integral part of Chennaiyin's near-miraculous revival in the league stages, Jerry came be a regular under coach Owen Coyle. One of the most pleasing aspects of his game was a willingness to bide his time when defending, a sign of maturity in a precocious talent who had picked up three yellow cards during the victorious campaign in 2018. - DS

Central midfielder: Anirudh Thapa [Chennaiyin FC]

One of the first names on the Chennaiyin team sheet, the mention of Anirudh Thapa's name evokes the same response from Owen Coyle every time -- a quick, appreciative shake of the head followed by "Ah. What a player. He is just going to get better and better all the time." Thapa's incisive passing and incessant running allowed Coyle to build the platform upon which to build his team. - AM

Central midfielder: Ahmed Jahouh [FC Goa]

With Hugo Boumous hitting his straps in a big way for Goa this season, Jahouh was a more relaxed presence in the midfield for the team that will make history with participation in the AFC Champions League group stages next season. The burly Jahouh did not let up on intensity in his defensive duties, though, especially in the last month after Goa decided to part ways with Sergio Lobera and the top spot was on the line. He even allowed himself some fun, joining in attack to set the ball rolling in an entertaining 4-3 win away to Chennaiyin in December. It was his first ISL goal in three seasons, and he afforded himself a rare smile, while gesturing to his team-mates how easy it is to score when the ball lands right on a platter, as he himself does for them so often. - DS

Right attacking midfielder: Jerry Mawihmingthanga [Odisha FC]

This could well be the season that Jerry looks back as the one that made him a top player in Indian football, at long last. A virtual regular in coach Josep Gombau's Odisha lineup, Jerry contributed two goals and five assists from 17 games with some terrific work down the wings, and even played the role of the lone striker when his team needed it. Odisha played a possession-based style of football, and Jerry seemed right at home with Gombau's gameplan - his 558 touches fourth-highest among all Indians, with only full backs Narayan Das and Shubham Sarangi, and central midfielder Vinit Rai getting to see more of the ball for them. - DS

Central attacking midfielder: Hugo Boumous [FC Goa]

The best player this season. His stats speak for themselves - 11 goals, 10 assists in 15 matches, a goal contribution every 57 minutes - numbers that drove the attacking juggernaut that is FC Goa to the top of the table, and with it to the Asian Champions League. If Boumous had been fit for the semifinal (he missed the first leg with a knee injury, and played only twenty minutes of the second), not many would contest the argument that Saturday's final would have been FC Goa v ATK. He was just that unstoppably good this season. - AM

Left attacking midfielder - Roy Krishna [ATK]

Ok, this is cheating, but we really had to squeeze both of the next two names in. And considering that Roy Krishna played the less fixed position, and has a history of playing down the wings, we shunted him out to left attacking midfield. His 15 goals and 6 assists make him one of the most valuable players in the league and his intelligent, incessant, and pacy running gave defences across the land nightmares throughout the season. -AM

Centre forward - Nerijus Valskis [Chennaiyin FC]

Probably the toughest position to fill, what with the form Coro and Bartholomew Ogbeche were in. In the end though, we went for the golden boot winner. Nerijus Valskis' goals powered Chennaiyin's miracle run into the final, and they were of all sorts and shapes. A big, burly presence, unstoppable in the air and with a tractor engine for a left foot, Valskis scored 15 goals and assisted six more. The perfect centre forward to take the field for our team of the season. - AM

And on the bench, having narrowly missed out: Arindam Bhattacharya, Seriton Fernandes, Edwin Vanspaul, Sunil Chhetri, Coro, David Williams, and Bartholomew Ogbeche

MANAGER: Owen Coyle [Chennaiyin FC]

Took a side from the bottom of the table to the final, and did so while playing front-foot, entertaining, football. Owen Coyle's infectious positivity lifted a down-in-the-dumps Chennaiyin and with them the league.