Clinical Coro, solid Subrata among ISL's best performers
With the next ISL game only on December 28, ESPN takes stock and names the five most impactful players of the season so far.
Raphael Augusto [Midfielder, Chennaiyin FC]
Brazilian Raphael Augusto has been an integral part of Chennaiyin since coach Marco Materazzi's days, and under John Gregory, his role has just become even more vital with ISL allowing one foreign player less per team to start. Augusto plays a central midfielder's role to perfection -- breaking up play, marking key opposition players, varying points of attack from the centre, and even chipping in with two goals.
Chennai are top of the table at the moment, and crucially have won two of their three difficult away games -- 1-0 against FC Pune City and 2-1 in a bruising encounter in Bengaluru. His midfield qualities were vital to preventing Bengaluru, and their strike duo of Sunil Chettri and Miku in particular, from getting any fluency going.
With Augusto standing firm in midfield, they promise to remain the team to beat, especially if Chennaiyin keep finding goals like they have done in all but one of their matches.
Coro [Forward, FC Goa]
FC Goa have been known to be slow starters in previous ISL seasons under Zico, but this year they started by beating 2015 champions Chennaiyin 3-2 away, with Spaniard Coro scoring the first goal of the season.
Ferran 'Coro' Corominas has been in sublime scoring form with eight goals, helping Goa to successive wins over Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters, and becoming the first to score back-to-back ISL hat-tricks. The pick of those goals was the winner against Bengaluru, with Coro timing a late surge to perfection, springing the offside trap with precision to bring up his hat-trick.
Coro's work in the attacking third with compatriot Manuel Lanzarote has been difficult for opposition teams to contain, and their 2-0 defeat at home to FC Pune City on Saturday was just the first game they failed to score in this season.
Emiliano Alfaro [Forward, FC Pune City]
Pune were among the best participants in the pre-season transfer market, and they seemed to have pulled off the perfect coup with the strike-duo of Uruguayan Emilano Alfaro from NorthEast United, and last season's top scorer, former Delhi Dynamos forward Marcelinho of Brazil. Coach Ranko Popovic has used both, but with Marcelinho dropping deeper behind Alfaro and providing him with assists. The combination has worked well, with Alfaro scoring five of Pune's 12 goals as they have won each of their three away games this season.
The first goal away to Goa was quintessential Marcelinho-Alfaro, as the former drew away his markers and then slipped an inch-perfect pass for the latter, who then took a touch to compose himself before slotting the ball past Laxmikant Kattimani.
Balwant Singh [Forward, Mumbai City]
It has been a good 2017 for Balwant Singh, recalled to the Indian national team, and now leading the list of Indian scorers in this year's ISL with four goals, one more than each of his strike-partners for the national team Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Balwant has been an important component of a Mumbai team that has been poor at converting chances -- seven goals in seven matches is something they will need to improve on to be in contention for the playoffs. Balwant has been the complete package in attack, though, quick along the ground, strong in the air and unerring with his shots.
Balwant's best was reserved for NorthEast, where he scored both goals simply by getting to the ball quicker than anybody in the opposition, though NorthEast goalkeeper Ravi Kumar did him a favour each time by coming way off his line.
Subrata Pal [Goalkeeper, Jamshedpur FC]
With 19 saves in the ISL season, Pal still trails Mumbai City's Amrinder Singh (29) and Paul Rachubka (21) of Kerala Blasters, but he leads the way with five clean sheets in six matches for the debutants. His performance was superb in their last match away to Bengaluru FC, taking shots from the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Miku and Udanta Singh on all parts of his body, and it paved the way for Jamshedpur's second win of the season. They have lost just one of six games, and a big reason why they have been collecting points has been down to Subrata, whose career ISL clean sheets tally now stands at 18.