As newly appointed official data providers to the competition, our Indian football experts at Opta look ahead to the new season with a 2023-24 Indian Super League preview.
The Indian Super League is entering its 10th official season as 12 teams are set to compete for the ultimate bragging rights in the country. This will be the first season where the promoted I-League winner competes, with Punjab FC making the step up to increase the number of sides in the competition from 11 to 12.
Will Mohun Bagan FC defend their title and add to their trophy cabinet, or will Mumbai City FC, the 2022-23 League Shield winners, go the extra distance and win it all this time? Can manager Sergio Lobera inspire Odisha FC and add a third Indian Super League title to his CV? Can Punjab FC shake things up?
As the excitement ramps up for the season opener on 21 September, we introduce you to every team taking part in the 2023-24 ISL campaign, giving you all the need-to-know facts and stats.
Personifying the adage “a tale of two halves”, Bengaluru FC won 10 straight games in 2023, their longest winning run in ISL history, having accumulated just 10 points from their 12 games prior. This run saw them reach the final, where they fell short to eventual champions Mohun Bagan Super Giant.
The Blues have seen a major roster reshuffle ahead of the upcoming season. They remain under the stewardship of English coach Simon Grayson but saw talisman Roy Krishna and defensive wall Sandesh Jhingan depart. The latter had made 163 clearances in 2022-23, the most in a single season by any player in ISL history.
Bengaluru still has an impressive squad, however. All-time Indian national team top scorer Sunil Chhetri and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu remain the household names on the roster, while Roshan Singh, Suresh Wangjam and Sivasakthi Narayanan bring the exuberance of youth. New recruit Curtis Main – who scored nine goals in the Scottish Premiership for St. Mirren last season – will be tasked with adding to Chhetri’s goal threat, while Slavko Damjanovic and Jessel Carneiro should prove to be valuable additions to the defence.
It may take Bengaluru FC some weeks to find their stride but expect the Blues to be in playoff contention yet again.
The Marina Machans put up some commendable performances in the 2022-23 season, including becoming just the second team after FC Goa to score seven goals in a game (7-3 vs NorthEast United FC). However, injuries to their star players at crucial junctures affected their ability to remain consistent.
Following a rather sub-par ending to each of their last three seasons – finishing eighth in all of them – Chennaiyin FC have made significant alterations to their squad. They lost Anirudh Thapa, Petar Sliskovic, Julius Duker and Abdenasser El Khayati to name a few – but have added a collection of new foreign players.
The arrival of former Watford and Udinese midfielder Cristian Battocchio, Connor Shields, Jordan Murray, Lazar Cirkovic and the return of Rafael Crivellaro will give the franchise new formulas to discover. Another positive for Chennaiyin FC loyalists is the return of experienced Scottish coach Owen Coyle, who facilitated their last play-off appearance in 2019-20.
Additionally, CFC were able to put up a strong showing at the recently concluded Durand Cup, where they won all their group stage games in a decisive manner. While they ended up losing their first knockout game at the hands of FC Goa, the competition gave them a good platform to set things in motion with their reshuffled roster.
East Bengal FC
East Bengal FC are poised for a pivotal ISL season. Since entering the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2020-21, they have struggled, with a 2021-22 bottom-of-the-table finish sandwiched between two ninth-place efforts. However, with the arrival of Carles Cuadrat, a former ISL Cup winner with Bengaluru FC, East Bengal are determined to reverse their fortunes and embark on a potential year of redemption.
Crucially, they’ve retained key players such as Naorem Mahesh Singh, Lalchungnunga, and Souvik Chakrabarti. Star performer Cleiton Silva, who narrowly missed out on the Golden Boot award last season after scoring 12 goals in 20 appearances, also remains in their ranks. Notable additions to the squad include experienced ISL talents like Saul Crespo, Borja Herrera, and Javier Siverio. Their Indian signings, including Nandhakumar Sekar, Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Mandar Rao Dessai, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, and Nishu Kumar, further strengthen the team.
East Bengal FC’s quest for a strong season begins with a home match against Jamshedpur FC at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on 25 September. Encouragingly, they recently finished as runners-up in the Durand Cup 2023, foreshadowing a potential resurgence. The Indian football giants are poised to aim for a top-four finish in the upcoming ISL season, rekindling hopes of a successful campaign.
FC Goa may have lost their top goalscorer in Iker Guarrotxena (11 goals) but have addressed a glaring weakness from their 2022-23 campaign: their defence. The Gaurs have acquired the services of some high-performing defenders in Sandesh Jhingan, Odei Onaindia, Boris Singh and a former Gaur in Narayan Das.
Jhingan (163) and Onaindia (96) recorded more clearances than any other player in the 2022-23 ISL season, while Boris Singh’s 73 touches in the opposition’s box was 35 more than any other defender, proving he can be a threat at set-pieces.
While FC Goa’s transfer market activity may indicate a focus on defence, there are names that help bolster their attack as well. The signing of forward Carlos Martinez is one such name, as he poses a great threat inside the box. Udanta Singh (from Bengaluru FC) and Noah Sadaoui’s prowess on the wings is sure to facilitate goal scoring opportunities for Martinez, given his physical strengths.
Sadaoui assisted a league-high nine goals in the ISL last season, with his expected assists per 90 average of 0.23 behind that of only Greg Stewart and Borja Herrera (both 0.27) of those to play at least 1,000 minutes in 2022-23. Across the FC Goa squad, Brandon Fernandes (39) created 11 more chances overall, but assisted six goals fewer (3) from those opportunities crafted.
Hyderabad FC finished with 42 points in the 2022-23 edition of the Indian Super League, their highest in any single campaign in club history. Their defence was a primary contributor, with HFC allowing a league low 16 goals, with only five of these conceded the final 30 minutes of games. Despite their great season, it was only enough to finish second in the league standings, however.
Heading into this season, HFC have a whole set of changes to unpack, starting right at the helm. Thangboi Singto has been promoted to the role of head coach following Manolo Marquez’s departure, Hyderabad’s vanguard will see a major reshuffle too, with Bartholomew Objeche, the only player in ISL history to record 10+ goal contributions in five straight seasons, no longer returning to lead their lines.
Other departures include Javi Siverio and Borja Herrera who have both joined East Bengal FC, while Halicharan Narzary and Rohit Danu have made the switch to Bengaluru FC. To fill in this void, HFC have recruited the likes of Jonathan Moya, Felipe Amorim and Joe Knowles.
Centre-back Odei Onaindia and left-back Akash Mishra, who played a huge role in establishing Hyderabad’s steely defence, also won’t be returning. This allows the likes of Chinglesana Singh, Nim Dorjee Tamang, and Nikhil Poojary to take up the mantle.
Despite club captain Joao Victor returning to galvanize the midfield, Hyderabad have all the makings of a team in transition. It would be highly optimistic to label them as potential contenders for the ISL crown, but the playoffs berth isn’t entirely out of their reach.
Jamshedpur FC are determined to bounce back from a disappointing previous season. Established in 2017 and former winners of the ISL shield in 2021-22, the Red Miners finished a lacklustre 10th place last season. They have high hopes for a more inspiring campaign with new coach Steve Cooper at the helm, commencing their journey against East Bengal on 5 September.
Jamshedpur have bolstered their squad with several notable signings, including Petar Sliskovic from Chennaiyin FC, Alen Stevanovic from IMT Belgrad, and Brazilian midfielder Elsinho. Additionally, they’ve added experienced Indian players like Semboi Haokip and Imran Khan during the transfer window. Departures from the club include Rafael Crivellaro, Ishan Pandita, Harry Sawyer, and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
With a significant overhaul of their squad, the Red Miners are determined to distance themselves from the struggles of the previous season and mount a strong comeback. Their objective is to challenge for a top-half position in the table, seeking to regain their former standing in the league.
Kerala Blasters FC
The Tuskers have shown some promise over the last two Indian Super League seasons under the leadership of Ivan Vukomanović, finishing as a runner-up in the 2021-22 season and ending their 2022-23 season in a controversial manner in the semi-final stage. However, they are yet to bag silverware in the competition.
KBFC’s transfer window has been a mixed bag, as they lost some impactful players but were able to add talent across different positions. The signing of Mohun Bagan SG’s captain Pritam Kotal, along with centre-back Milos Drincic is likely to boost their defensive capabilities.
In midfield, the Tuskers lost Ayush Adhikari to their neighbours (CFC) and the attacking prowess of Sahal Abdul Samad to Mohun Bagan SG but have brought in some young talent to compensate. Acquiring the services of Kwame Peprah from Ghana and Japanese winger Daisuke Sakai, along with the attacking expertise of Ishan Pandita (from Jamshedpur FC) should give the franchise ample attacking options.
The new signings will also serve as a ticket for Adrian Luna to exploit his skills as a creator. It will be important for the Tuskers to get a good start to the season and figure out a working formula for this revamped unit.
Mohun Bagan Super Giant
As the reigning champions of the Indian Super League, Mohun Bagan are gearing up to defend their crown in the upcoming ISL 2023-24 season. Under the guidance of head coach Juan Ferrando, the Mariners kicked off their campaign in style by securing the Durand Cup, an achievement made even sweeter as they beat arch-rivals East Bengal in the final.
Rebranded as Mohun Bagan Super Giants, the club, previously known as ATK Mohun Bagan, are looking to add to their storied 134-year history. They have made significant signings this summer, including top-class foreign talents such as Jason Cummings – who played at the 2022 World Cup for Australia – and Armando Sadiku, along with quality Indian players like Sahal Abdul Samad and Anwar Ali. This has bolstered their squad, making them a formidable force for the ISL 2023-24 season.
Cummings is arguably one of the most exciting players to ever arrive in the Indian Super League. The Australian international scored 20 goals in 28 appearances for Central Coast Mariners last season, finishing second in the A-League Men goal charts.
With an array of match-winners at his disposal, coach Ferrando aims to further embellish his coaching accolades and guide the Mariners to become the first team to secure back-to-back championship titles. The stage is set for Mohun Bagan Super Giants to continue their dominance in Indian football.
Mumbai City FC
The defending Indian Super League Shield winners, Mumbai City FC broke a host of records in the preceding season. They remained unbeaten in the first 18 games (W14 D4) in 2022-23, the longest such streak in competition history, and became the first team to breach the 50-goal mark in the league stage of an ISL season.
Buoyed by manager Des Buckingham’s contract extension until 2024-25, the Islanders boast of an enviable core. Breakout star Lallianzuala Chhangte will look to add to his 16 goal contributions from last season, which is already tied for the most by any Indian player in an ISL season. Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Greg Stewart would only reinvigorate Mumbai’s offence, having made 18 and 16 goal contributions respectively last season.
Mumbai were unable to retain midfield general Ahmed Jahouh, though, who has joined Odisha FC. The additions of rising talent Akash Mishra at left-back and super-sub Abdenasser El Khayati should help them fill the void.
Kicking off their 2023-24 campaign against last season’s bottom dwellers NorthEast United FC, Mumbai City FC will once again be the favourites for the ISL crown. They are the highest ranked ISL team in the Opta Power Rankings on the eve of the season, with NorthEast United ranked the second lowest among all ISL sides, only above East Bengal.
NorthEast United FC
By accumulating just five points throughout 2022-23, NorthEast United are coming off the back of the worst season for any team in Indian Super League history. The main reason behind this was their porous defence, which let in 55 goals, the most by any side in a single ISL season. Unsurprisingly, they also allowed their opponents a league high 1.87 expected goals (xG) per game across 2022-23. The Highlanders, however, have started reparations by signing Palestinian defender Yaser Hamed, who will be expected to fortify their backline.
Things also seem to have taken an uptick under new manager Juan Pedro Benali. A four-game unbeaten run in the 2023 Durand Cup saw the Highlanders reach the semifinals, where they were ousted in a penalty shootout against East Bengal. Parthib Gogoi shone the brightest in the competition by scoring four goals. The NorthEast faithful would be expecting him and his elder brother Pragyan Gogoi to take a leap in this upcoming season.
With Romain Philippoteaux leading the midfield and the likes of Jithin MS and the returning Redeem Tlang to provide support in attack, NorthEast United FC have a decent core to kick-start their rebuild in the 2023-24 campaign.
Odisha made massive strides in the 2022-23 Indian Super League season, earning a spot in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. And rightfully so, Odisha went to work during the off season, bolstering both their roster and leadership to capitalise on their recent spoils.
The Juggernauts brought in a proven winner in Sergio Lobera – one of the most successful managers in the history of ISL. Lobera’s style of play is sure to bring in some consistent success for the franchise, which he has managed with both FC Goa and Mumbai City FC in the past.
Lobera has even got a bunch of familiar faces in his camp with the additions of Mourtada Fall, Ahmed Jahouh & Amey Ranawade (on loan) from Mumbai City, and Lenny Rodrigues from FC Goa. Apart from these signings, the additions of Cy Goddard, Roy Krishna, Puitea and Jerry Lalrinzuala will help strengthen other key areas.
However, the biggest box they checked was extending Diego Mauricio’s contract – the winner of the 2022-23 Golden Boot award. Maurício scored a goal once in every 128 minutes in the last season, the fastest such rate among those who played at least 1,000 minutes throughout the season.
Punjab FC have achieved historic success by earning promotion from the I-League, winning the second tier of Indian football. In the previous season, they dominated the I-League, triumphing in 16 out of 22 matches and securing the top spot with 52 points, a comfortable 10 points ahead of runner-ups Sreenidi Deccan FC. They displayed a potent offence with 45 goals while maintaining a solid defence, conceding only 16 goals and keeping 12 clean sheets.
Punjab FC have retained the core of their championship-winning squad and made a notable addition with Colombian striker Wilmar Jordan Gill, who had an impressive record in the Indian Super League (ISL). However, their lineup for the upcoming ISL season appears less promising, particularly with a weaker Indian contingent as well as foreign signings that may not inspire confidence.
As the newcomers to the Indian Super League, Punjab FC will aim to establish themselves in the league with no relegation to worry about this season.