ISL playoffs: Four of the best
The Indian Super League (ISL) has reached the business end of the competition, with Atletico de Kolkata, Delhi Dynamos, Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters FC making the final four. ESPN takes a look at the one player from each side who will be crucial to their hopes of not only reaching the final, but perhaps even winning it.
Diego Forlan (Mumbai City FC)
Goals - 5, Assists - 2
Diego Forlan has not been Mumbai City FC's best player, but he has had the most impact. It took time for Forlan to get into his stride, but even when he was not scoring the goals, he was still contributing by moving the ball around, making runs that created space for team-mates, and being a threat from set-pieces. This helped even the winger Matias Defederico and midfielder Krisztián Vadócz flourish. As the season progressed, Forlan became even more influential. He started creating more and slowly became the focal point of Mumbai's attack. The goals came, the assists came, and Forlan became the link through which Mumbai weaved their way into the six-yard box. In his heydays, Forlan won the Europa League with Atletico Madrid (2010), the Copa America with Uruguay (2011) and also helped them reach the World Cup semifinals in 2010. His experience in big games can go a long way in taking Mumbai - first timers in the ISL playoffs - all the way to the title.
- Arjun Namboothiri
CK Vineeth (Kerala Blasters)
Goals - 5, Assists - 1
Following a dramatic 3-1 win against Chennaiyin FC in Kochi, Kerala Blasters' CK Vineeth was almost embarrassed to accept the Player-of-the-Match award. "To be honest, I'm disappointed with my game today," he said. It is hard to disagree with Vineeth's assessment of his own performance. For 90 minutes, he had misplaced simple passes, struggled to hold up the ball, and failed to link up with his team-mates. But even on one of his quieter nights, when seemingly nothing was going his way, Vineeth had bagged two important goals for his team. That's how dangerous he can be in the final third. His exploits with Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup meant Vineeth did not join the Kerala fold till early November, but in just five starts, he has already became the most productive Indian player in the league, with five goals and one assist. Among those include a 97-th minute winner against FC Goa, the game-changing brace against Chennaiyin, and a long-ranger against NorthEast United which sealed Kerala's place in the playoffs. Of the four semifinalists, Kerala are the least prolific in front of goal, having scored just 13 times in 14 matches. They do, however, have in their armoury a clinical striker who is always a menace in and around the box.
- Anuj Vignesh
Marcelo Leite Pereira (Delhi Dynamos)
Goals - 9, Assists - 5
Few would have predicted Delhi Dynamos to have the kind of run to the semifinals they did. Delhi scored 27 goals on their way to the last four, 11 more than Mumbai City and Atletico de Kolkata, and more than twice what Kerala managed. Their exploits in front of goal are largely down to Marcelo Pereira, who has not only managed to net nine goals to top the scoring charts, but also provided five assists. Marcelo will again be the main focus of Delhi's attack in the semifinal against Kerala, with the Brazilian letting fly 37 shots with 22 on target. That works out to just over 40% of his shots on target finding the net. It helps that his strike partner Richard Gadze, who has also managed five goals, is willing to turn creator and let Marcelo lead the charge. Should Marcelo stay fit, Delhi can bank on making the finals, especially since they play the crucial second leg at home - where they went unbeaten all season, an ISL record.
- Govindan Kishwar
Borja Fernandez (Atletico de Kolkata)
Passes - 735, Tackles - 42
One of ISL's most easily recognizable faces - though this year he sported a ponytail which appeared at odds with his workmanlike attitude on the field - Borja Fernandez has been key once again to Atletico de Kolkata being a difficult team to outplay, especially in the middle of the park. Much like in both 2014 and 2015, he has featured in virtually every minute, sitting out the last league game only once Kolkata's place in the last four was booked. Despite missing out on 90 minutes of action, he leads his team's stats in both defensive parameters like tackles and offensive numbers such as passes completed. Borja's battle for control of the pace of the game against the likes of Krisztian Vadocz, Diego Forlan and Sunil Chhetri in the semis is particularly something to look forward to. Borja is yet to score this season, but If he fires in the playoffs, it would cap off another solid, consistent season bossing the midfield for the 2014 champions.
- Debayan Sen