ISL 2023-24: Top 5 Indian players to watch out for

Lallianzuala Chhangte and Naorem Roshan Singh are among the top Indian players to watch out for in the 2023-24 Indian Super League (ISL) season. ISL Media / Focus Sports

A new Indian Super League (ISL) season begins on Thursday with a match between arch-rivals Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC.

Over the last year or so, the Indian men's football team has had positive results to show, winning three international tournaments, including the SAFF Championship. The Indian players do deserve the credit for marked improvements in their overall game, playing important roles in the success of both the national team and their respective ISL clubs.

Here, ESPN names five Indian players to watch out for in the new ISL season:

Lallianzuala Chhangte - Mumbai City FC

In the nine previous seasons of the ISL, only two Indian players ever won the player of the season award. Sunil Chhetri for the 2017-18 season and Chhangte last season for helping Mumbai City FC to win the League Winners Shield. He scored 10 league goals and assisted six times in 22 matches as Mumbai made it to the semifinals before faltering in the penalty shootout against Bengaluru.

Chhangte always had the speed and trickery but under Des Buckingham, he improved his finishing skills, something that benefited the national team too as they were heavily dependent on Sunil Chhetri.

Last season, Mumbai missed out on the final, something that Chhangte and his team will look to correct this time around. Form and confidence are in Chhangte's side, he will need to keep up with the consistency to help his club maintain dominance in the league.   

Anwar Ali - Mohun Bagan Super Giant

Anwar Ali was told he cannot play football. But now, he's well on his way to becoming India's best defender. After spending 18 months over the last two seasons with FC Goa, Anwar moved to ISL champions Mohun Bagan Super Giant and has already helped them win the Durand Cup this season after a gap of 23 years.

He's a ball playing centre-back while also being solid with last ditch tackles and heading clearances. He can read the game really well and there's hardly a drop in concentration levels. Juan Ferrando's team will depend heavily on Anwar, both in terms of defending and trying to launch attacks from the back. With his new team, he has already put up a big performance in the Durand Cup final, where Mohun Bagan kept a clean sheet despite going down to 10 men.

Anwar has also been scoring for his team, netting once in the Durand Cup and twice already in the AFC Cup Qualifier against Machhindra FC.

Naorem Mahesh Singh - East Bengal

East Bengal finished ninth last season with 13 defeats and just six wins. There was not much to celebrate for East Bengal except for Mahesh, who was the brightest one on the pitch whenever he stepped out for East Bengal. He recorded seven assists in 19 matches last season, most by an Indian in the league and also scoring a couple of goals.

Mahesh is a natural on the wing, but he can also be effective from the middle of the park, picking the right passes and coming up with crisp finishes. Like the one he scored recently against Iraq in a King's Cup match. His form was a big plus in India winning the SAFF Championship.

Mahesh has already made an impression under the new East Bengal head coach Carles Cuadrat, helping his team to qualify for the final. The Durand Cup run has given plenty of hope to East Bengal fans and if they want to come up with something similar then Mahesh has to be the creative spark for the team.

Sivasakthi Narayanan - Bengaluru FC

Bengaluru FC always had quality forwards in their ranks who were pivotal to the team's success. Miku, Roy Krishna and the legend himself Sunil Chhetri. Up next is Sivasakthi, who has already shown his talent and calibre last season, when he scored six goals, more than Chhetri and Krishna. His goals pushed Bengaluru FC all the way to the final after a dreadful start to their campaign and Sivasakthi ended up winning the Emerging Player of the League award.

Sivasakthi has the pace to leave behind the defenders and a taste for impeccable finishing, even if it's only a half a chance. This season, with a better run of games, Sivasakthi can end up with a double-digit goals tally.

Brandon Fernandes - FC Goa

FC Goa endured a couple of tough seasons where they missed out on playoff spots. Brandon, one of Goa's best players, also went through a tough period in personal life after losing his father earlier this year. He took a break from football, missing out on international matches for India but he needed the time for himself.

Back now with his club as captain and under a new coach, Brandon will be ready to get back to his best. FC Goa's new head coach Manolo Marquez has the reputation of bringing the best out of Indian players and this bodes well for Brandon. He has already started well, recording two assists in four matches at the Durand Cup where the team made it to the semifinal.

The league and the national team need Brandon to do his thing -- putting up sublime crosses and testing goalkeepers with his bending free-kicks.

Other (young) players to watch out for

Phalguni Singh, the midfielder for NorthEast United was outstanding for his club in the Durand Cup.

Parthib Gogoi, also a young forward from NorthEast. With four goals, Gogoi finished as the second highest goal scorer at the Durand Cup.

Vibin Mohanan, midfielder for Kerala Blasters, who assisted three times in two Durand Cup matches. The absence of Sahal Abdul Samad could give Vibin ample opportunities to show his creative abilities.