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Top 10 Indian defenders to watch in ISL 2023/24

Rahul Naresh Rahul Naresh

The Indian Super League (ISL) has provided us with abundant defensive talent in its nearly-decade-long history. From attacking fullbacks to strong centre-halves, we’ve seen it all in India’s top tier of football.

The following is a list of some of the best defenders to look forward to this ISL season. From experienced players to youngsters waiting to make a name for themselves, here are my top ISL defensive picks for the 2023/24 season.

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Anwar Ali 

Arguably the best defender in Indian football today, it is no surprise that Anwar Ali finds his name on top of this list. The 23-year-old centre-half earned himself a move to Mohun Bagan this summer after impressing at FC Goa last season.

Ali has not only established himself as one of the best in club football, he is also seen as the go-to man with regards to the national team as well. Often seen pairing alongside Sandesh Jhingan for India, one can safely say that the defender will have a successful career ahead. 

Last season, Ali managed 20 ISL appearances for the Goan side, starting every single league tie. He scored a goal and provided two assists during the league stage as his side crashed out of the competition, finishing seventh in the end.

Akash Mishra

Another player considered to be a superstar for the Indian national team and at club level is Akash Mishra. After a successful spell at Hyderabad FC, where he spent three long years and much of his developmental stages, the 21-year-old left-back secured a move to Mumbai City FC this summer. 

Mishra is already seen as an integral part of Des Buckingham’s squad. With Vignesh Dakshinamurthy joining Hyderabad FC, Mishra’s fitness during the course of the season will be key to Mumbai’s success in domestic and Asian competitions.

Last season, Mishra managed 19 appearances for his previous employers, bagging one goal. He has taken the next step in his career and will be crucial to the Indian national team in the coming years. 

Sandesh Jhingan

Up next is the incredibly experienced Sandesh Jhingan, who will play for FC Goa in the upcoming ISL season. The centre-back enjoyed a largely successful season last time out with Bengaluru FC, helping the Blues to the finals of the ISL and the Super Cup.

Jhingan is used to playing in varied defensive setups. He played in a back-three for Simon Grayson last year, while finding himself in a back-four for India. He is often paired with youngster Anwar Ali for the national side.

Last year, Jhingan made 22 ISL appearances, failing to register a goal contribution. In all, the 30-year-old ex-Kerala Blasters man has a total of 116 matches during the league stages of India’s top-tier football competition.

Rahul Bheke 

Another trusted defender in the ISL today is Rahul Bheke. Now in competition with Nikhil Poojary over a spot for India’s first eleven, the right-back has something to prove this season.

Bheke’s versatility has been on show previously. Before moving to Mumbai City FC from Bengaluru FC in 2021, the 32-year-old was seen in central defensive roles. 

In total, Bheke’s made a total of 117 appearances in the league stages of the ISL, playing for four different teams: Mumbai City, Bengaluru, Kerala Blasters and Pune City. Last year, he started 17 matches in the ISL and will be Des Buckingham’s first option at right-back.

Nikhil Poojary

Up next is a player who’s caught the eye over the last couple of ISL campaigns and has earned himself a starting place in India’s first eleven. Nikhil Poojary, who plays for Hyderabad FC as a right-back, is certainly one to keep an eye on this season. 

The 28-year-old defender has helped his south Indian club to consecutive top-two finishes in the league stages of the ISL.

Poojary was a part of the ISL-winning squad of the 2021/22 season. That year, he made 19 appearances for Hyderabad, contributing with one goal and two assists. He started 16 of those games and will look to help his side out in a similar fashion this campaign.

Subashish Bose 

Up next is a footballer who’s got an abundance of experience under his belt playing in India’s top-tier competition. The left-back, who previously played for Bengaluru FC and Mumbai City FC, is now an integral part of a star-studded Mohun Bagan squad that will be gunning to retain the title this year.

Bose joined the Kolkata-based outfit from Mumbai in the summer of 2020. Since then, he’s made 90 appearances, scoring four goals and providing five assists across all competitions for Mohun Bagan.

The 28-year-old fullback has managed a total of 105 appearances in the league stages of the ISL. With Pritam Kotal departing, Bose will have to shoulder much of the defensive responsibilities this year.

Hormipam Ruivah 

Hormipam Ruivah has caught the eye of several Indian football fans watching the ISL. The 22-year-old defender who plays for Kerala Blasters will definitely be one to watch this season.

The defender recently signed a contract extension with his current club and will remain in Kerala till 2027. Ruivah is yet to make his national team debut. 

Ruivah joined the Blasters side from Punjab FC in the summer of 2021 and has since managed 40 appearances for them. If Kerala Blasters are to have a successful season, a lot will depend upon the contributions of this young centre-half.

Also read: Indian Super League (ISL) teams and their head coaches for 2023/24 season

Ashish Rai

A real prospect who will be entrusted with ensuring maximum output from the right-back position is young Ashish Rai. The 24-year-old defender plays for Mohun Bagan and played a crucial role in the club’s ISL success last time out. 

Mohun Bagan triumphed over Bengaluru FC on penalties to secure the ISL trophy at the end of a season that saw Rai start every single league stage and play-off fixture for the Mariners. 

Rai’s performances in the ISL last year also saw him break into the Indian national setup. He was given his debut in India’s third-place play-off match against Lebanon on September 10 this year.

Mehtab Singh

The 25-year-old defender caught the eye last season as he helped Mumbai City FC to their league shield title.

Singh made the move to Mumbai from East Bengal in October 2020 and has now nailed down a first-team spot for himself. Since joining the Islanders, he has managed 64 appearances, bagging five goals and two assists across all competitions.

Singh is not only vital in the defensive half but can also score from corners in the opposition box. He managed to score from a corner in his side’s second-leg semi-final fixture against Bengaluru FC last year. 

Singh will also be gunning for a starting place in the India eleven, having made his national team debut against Myanmar in March earlier this year. 

Roshan Singh

An intriguing case for a football neutral is Naorem Roshan Singh of Bengaluru FC. The youngster was often used in the left-wingback role by Simon Grayson last season, as the English manager preferred to play with a back-three. 

Singh can also play as a winger and at right-back. With enough pace and trickery to take on opposition defenders, his attacking prowess in the ISL this season will be interesting to watch. 

Singh was an integral part of the Bengaluru side that made it all the way to the ISL final last year. He managed three assists from 24 appearances for the Blues. After coming up the ranks at the club’s youth academy, the 24-year-old star has registered 57 first-team appearances for the south Indian side.

Also read: Top 8 Indian Super League (ISL) coaches of all time

Top 10 Indian defenders to watch in the ISL 2023/24 season
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