India's Danish Farooq, William Lalnunfela star in I-League power rankings
With the first four weeks of the I-League completed, traditional powerhouses East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have made impressive starts. While East Bengal are unbeaten across four games and lead the points table, Churchill Brothers and Real Kashmir are also yet to face defeat, but have played two and three matches, respectively. So who have been the top performers across the 11 teams? ESPN has you covered with the power rankings.
10 William Lalnunfela [Aizawl FC]
National team coach Igor Stimac has bemoaned the lack of match time for Indian strikers in domestic football, and also promised to have a look at I-League performances for this season, and that's where he would do well to consider Lalnunfela.
A starter for the former champions over the past two years, Lalnunfela has risen to become an indispensable part of coach Stanley Rozario's plans. His pace and movement have helped open up games for Aizawl, who have lost just one of five matches played. Lalnunfela has played his part, scoring in a 2-1 win against Indian Arrows and also helping earn a crucial point against champions Chennai City FC.
9 Marcus Joseph [Gokulam Kerala]
Kerala, marked out as potential title-contenders for this season, began with two wins in their first two matches. While their third game saw them slip up away to Mohun Bagan, Joseph has been outstanding in attack alongside Henry Kisseka for the Durand Cup champions.
Operating down the left, the Trinidad and Tobago international cleverly interchanges positions with Kisseka and complements the other attacking players of his club perfectly. One of his two goals came in a player-of-the-match performance against NEROCA, a 2-1 win in front of a capacity crowd at home.
8 Lalkhawpuimawia [Churchill Brothers]
Lalkhawpuimawia was outstanding up front the previous season for Aizawl FC, and justified his transfer to former champions Churchill Brothers with a brace and a player of the match award in their season-opener at home, a clinical 3-0 against Punjab FC. He brings energy, pace and purpose up front, and is the perfect foil for Willis Plaza, who is expectantly leading the attacking line for a well-rounded team.
7 Mason Robertson [Real Kashmir]
Robertson didn't start his club's first match, a 1-1 draw away to East Bengal, but has since occupied the centre of midfield away to TRAU, and then played up top against Chennai City at home. His flexibility -- Robertson started last season in the centre of defence -- is largely down to his physical prowess, and that helped him muscle through both goals in the 2-2 draw against TRAU.
Real Kashmir have a bit more attacking verve this season, and Robertson is akin to the joker in the pack that his coach, and father, David can employ to disturb the opposition plans depending on how the team wishes to shape up.
6 Rochharzela [Aizawl FC]
Rochharzela has stood out for his maturity and decision-making, playing down the left of midfield and starting every game for Aizawl this season.
He scored two goals in a pulsating 3-3 draw against Punjab at home, but his greater contribution has been in tracking all the way back to defend the left for Aizawl. Despite leaking in those three goals against Punjab, Aizawl have the third-best defensive record among teams who have played four or more games.
5 Sergio Barboza [Punjab FC]
Punjab FC have been inclined to rotate players in their starting elevens across matches, but one player who has started all four games for the former champions is Brazilian forward Barboza, who prefers playing down the left. He has repaid the faith invested in him with crucial goals -- the final strike in a 3-1 win against Chennai City, and then two in the 3-3 draw with Aizawl. While the first of those was a superb curler from outside the penalty box, the other was a calm penalty finish in injury time that salvaged a point for Punjab.
4 Juan Mera [East Bengal]
East Bengal have some quality foreign players this time, and that has allowed coach Alejandro Menendez to try out different formations when playing their four games. Their preferred formation has been a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1, and the key link in those has been Spaniard Mera, who has operated along the wings, usually starting along the left.
Marcos Espada has led with three goals, and Jaime Santos too has chipped in with two for East Bengal, whose eight goals in four matches are the joint second-best conversion rate for a club behind Churchill Brothers, but Mera has been the creator for most threats when East Bengal move forward. He has scored two goals himself, including an 84th-minue strike that helped grab a point away to Punjab.
3 Danish Farooq [Real Kashmir]
With Englishman Kallum Higginbotham and the versatile Subhash Singh having joined Real Kashmir this season, coach David Robertson has a few more attacking options to fall back upon. This has freed up Danish, the creative force in midfield, to play a more creative role for this season.
Farooq has played in the hole behind the centre forward, partnered another player in attack, and also played down the left in midfield, but will need to contribute more in attack. He began that process in Real Kashmir's last match, scoring a 22nd-minute goal to set them on their way to a nerve-settling 2-1 win against Chennai City, their first home game of the season.
2 Fran Gonzalez [Mohun Bagan]
Mohun Bagan have the most clean sheets of all teams this season, and Fran Gonzalez is the league's top scorer with five goals. While those statements don't seem connected at first, the former Real Zaragoza defender has been instrumental in shoring up the Bagan midfield, playing as the defensive screen ahead of the back four.
Two of his goals have come from the penalty spot, and he has registered braces against Gokulam Kerala and TRAU, but it was perhaps his inability to stem the attacking tide of Churchill Brothers in a home game at Kalyani that would stand out as the only poor game he's had thus far. His leadership on the field has been exceptional, nonetheless.
1 Willis Plaza [Churchill Brothers]
Trinidad and Tobago's Willis Plaza knows exactly what it needs to perform in the I-League, and has already brought his A-game to the new season, with his three goals helping Churchill Brothers keep a perfect record.
Two goals against Mohun Bagan followed a perfunctory third strike in a 3-0 win against Punjab FC, and showed a striker at his opportunistic best. Expect Plaza to come hard at Indian Arrows in their next game in Vasco on December 28 -- the Churchill team is well-rested thanks to a postponement against Real Kashmir -- but the big test for both Plaza and his team will come on January 4, when they host his former club East Bengal.