Katsumi Yusa stars as Mohun Bagan dominate I-League power rankings
Mohun Bagan continue to be the team to beat in the I-League, having all but sealed the race to the title with a run of three consecutive wins in February.
Two of their players feature in ESPN's power rankings for this month, but with the race for second place picking up, there were other outstanding individual performances to choose from as well.
#10 Krishnananda Singh [TRAU]
After a good run in the early half of the season, TRAU's campaign ran into rough weather in February, with the team earning just two draws from five matches, including a 5-0 defeat against NEROCA in the Imphal Derby.
However, the one man who impressed for them was attacking midfielder Krishnananda Singh. His goal allowed the debutants to begin February on a positive note, giving them a 1-1 draw away to Gokulam Kerala. He was also impressive in a home game against East Bengal, where TRAU took the lead, but a strong second-half performance gave East Bengal a 4-2 win. With his pace and skills, Krishnananda kept the East Bengal defence on their toes even as his team crumbled.
#9 Vikram Pratap Singh [Indian Arrows]
The Arrows continue to bring up the bottom of the table, but striker Vikram Pratap Singh had another impressive month, notching up goals in both legs of the Arrows' matches against East Bengal.
The first one, away in Kalyani, gave the Arrows just their second win of the season. The second proved to be a consolation as East Bengal exacted some revenge with a 3-1 win away, but in all his performances this season, Vikram has done enough to ensure interest from bigger clubs for the coming season in investing in a strong, workmanlike Indian striker.
#8 Jaime Santos [East Bengal]
With the resources at their disposal, East Bengal would have been expected to vie for the I-League title this season, but February summed up their inconsistency -- narrow losses at home to Arrows and Aizawl, followed by a scored draw against Punjab FC, big wins over Arrows and TRAU, before ending the month with a point at home against Churchill Brothers.
Santos has been key to their good performances, though, setting off the scoring against both Arrows and TRAU. He has worked harder than most of the other foreign players -- could their slackening off suggest a lack of motivation within the squad for this season? In the month's last match, he carried the team virtually all by himself, playing through the middle, putting in great through balls and even setting up a chance with a backheel. Eventually, he was rewarded with a chance to even the score from the spot, something he did calmly after James Kithan had effected the early save.
#7 Sankar Roy [Mohun Bagan]
When Bagan play the way they have this season, winning far more matches and points than anybody else, and scoring more goals than the others, it is easy to get carried away and heap all the praise on their attacking players.
However, their defence has also been the most watertight, and at the centre of that is goalkeeper Sankar Roy. Roy has impressed not just with his shot-stopping, but also with his ability to initiate positive phases of play with his distribution. His six clean sheets, two of which came this month in the three matches played, are the most for any goalkeeper this season.
#6 Mason Robertson [Real Kashmir]
With Kallum Higginbotham and even Robin Singh joining in the fun upfront, one might have expected a quieter February for big Mason Robertson, who has made the switch from centre-back to centre-forward quite successfully for Kashmir.
Not so, as Robertson scored in away wins against both Aizawl FC and Gokulam Kerala, netting the only goal in the latter match. Robertson also gave Real Kashmir the perfect start against Aizawl in the return fixture in Srinagar, but a late flourish from the visitors gave them a point after having trailed 2-0 at one stage, thanks to Higginbotham.
#5 Lalkhawpuimawia [Churchill Brothers]
The tall second striker his team calls Mapuia has been among the goals again this February, complementing the dangerous Willis Plaza, who also returned from injuries and featured prominently this season for the only Goan club in the league.
Mapuia's two goals led to contrasting results -- against Chennai City, his goal momentarily equalised the score as the match saw three goals in the last five minutes as Chennai snuck away with the win in extra time. However, against Real Kashmir, Mapuia provided the exclamation mark in a strong start, with goals from him and Plaza earning the team a 2-0 lead in 20 minutes, and an eventual 2-1 win. With a bit more consistency in finishing, the likes of Plaza and Dawda Ceesay could play him in with passes more often than they currently do.
#4 Rochharzela [Aizawl FC]
Former champions Aizawl have been patchy all month, but attacking midfielder Roccharzela has stood out for his fighting qualities.
Often starting out wide on the left, his speed and willingness to get into the opposition box has given him impressive returns in terms of scoring as well, helping salvage points against Chennai City and Real Kashmir, after conceding leads of 1-0 and 2-0, respectively. In a team devoid of one consistent performer all season, Rochharzela has stood up, especially with his nerveless penalty conversions.
#3 Pritam Singh [NEROCA]
When NEROCA beat TRAU 5-0 in an Imphal derby at the start of the month, wide midfielder Pritam Singh starred with a hat trick, as the eventual winners drilled in all their goals in the second half. Pritam's goals came after the hour mark, when NEROCA had already established a 2-0 lead against 10-man TRAU, but his bigger contribution was stunning Gokulam Kerala with a goal inside two minutes in a 3-2 win later on in the month.
These were NEROCA's only high points in a month in which Mohun Bagan thrashed them 6-2, and Indian Arrows held them to a goalless draw in Imphal.
#2 Fran Gonzalez [Mohun Bagan]
Mohun Bagan have sizzled everywhere on the pitch, but it's at the heart of midfield where Spaniard Fran Gonzalez has pulled the strings most effectively in bringing in players like Baba Diawara, Joseba Beitia, Nongdamba Naorem and VP Suhair into dangerous positions.
When Bagan dismantled NEROCA 6-2 this month, Fran starred with a first-half hat-trick, while defensive midfielder Fran Morante and Diawara also scored in the first 45 minutes. When Gonzalez scored his third, the team had taken a 5-1 lead, and perhaps could have secured an even more lopsided scoreline, but for a second-half red card to Dhanachandra Singh.
#1 Katsumi Yusa [Chennai City]
After a poor first half of the season, champions Chennai City have shown some spark in February, with their three wins including victories away to Churchill Brothers and Indian Arrows, and another shared game at home against Aizawl FC. Katsumi Yusa has had a terrific month, scoring in all four matches where they have picked up points.
With the cream of their title-winning side having left the club, the onus will be on the experienced Katsumi to help them negotiate a tricky AFC Cup group stage, where they won't have the luxury of staying in India for matches against Bengaluru FC. It could be an exacting summer, but Katsumi's performance should give them the right boost ahead of those games.