2018-19 Indian Super League semi-finalists Northeast United FC has made a plethora of changes in their roster ahead of the new season. With the core members of their successful season migrating to other teams, it is going to be a tough ask for them to re-create a top-four finish.
Performance last season
With a revamped side during the 2018-19 season, the ‘Highlanders’ played their best in the tournament's history under the exceptional tutelage of Eelco Schattorie last season. Having been in and around the Indian football circuit for a while now, the coach was in the best position to take charge of the side and the tactician had a talented bunch of players at his disposal with former Paris Saint Germain star Bartholomew Ogbeche spearheading the strike force.
Eelco’s men started the season on a high, having garnered 11 points from their first five matches. A loss to Mumbai City FC at home was followed by back to back wins against Kerala Blasters FC and FC Pune City and soon, they were staring at a top-four finish after narrowly missing out in the 2015 and 2016 seasons respectively. And though Rowlin Borges and Co. faltered a bit in the latter stages of the season they ensured a semi-final berth.
Northeast United FC managed to get past Bengaluru FC in the opening leg of the semi-finals by a 2-1 margin, but re-creating the same at the Kanteerava Stadium was an uphill task for the Highlanders. They slumped to a 3-0 defeat as Bengaluru FC set up a title clash with a 4-2 aggregate, thus ending Northeast United’s dream run.
Filling the gaps
Northeast United FC finished in the fourth position after the league stages with 29 points from their quota of 18 matches. The team scored 22 goals out of which 12 was scored by goal-machine Bartholomew Ogbeche. Playmaker Fredrico Gallego was their second-best player having scored 4 goals and providing 5 assists. Rowlin Borges was the best Indian player of the season having played a pivotal role in the central midfield position for the side.
After finishing in the top four for the time in their history last season, the ‘Highlanders’ would be fairly disappointed to lose the core members of their squad this time around. Mastermind Eelco Schattoire has already shifted his loyalties to fellow club Kerala Blasters FC, before Ogbeche also followed him to the Southern end and Rowlin Borges was quickly roped in by Mumbai City FC.
Ghanaian star Asamoah Gyan has been deputed to fill in the shoes of Ogbeche, with the former is at the dusk of his career at the age of 33. Fanai Lalrempuia is the only other option to replace Rolwin Borges with Colombian Jose David Leudo forming the pair in the midfield. Redeem Tlang will be operating from the wings with new recruit Martin Chaves from the other side, while Maximilliano Barreiro will replace injured Fredrigo Gallego.
Having left for Mumbai City FC, Croatian defender Mato Grgic’s void will be filled in by his Dutch stopper Kai Heerings. There have been a couple of changes in the managerial position as well with legendary footballer Robert Jarni being summoned as the head coach as Sandip Nandy steps in the new goalkeeping coach. To sum it up, this altogether a separate unit from the one which played the last season.
Northeast United FC will kick-off with an away fixture against defending champions Bengaluru FC, but this time the hosts will be playing at the Balewadi Stadium, in Pune, far from their home fans. Even though Bengaluru FC are a much stronger team on paper, they would miss the home support as in the Kanteerava Stadium, which might pave the way for Northeast United FC to inflict an early blow before capitalizing on the opportunity.
After a home match against debutants Odisha FC, the highlanders will host mighty FC Goa, another steep challenge for the new-look side. The Sergio Lobera-coached side’s Spanish style will be hard to contend with. Early in November, NEUFC will travel to Hyderabad to play their first ISL match in the city.
Semi-finalists Mumbai City FC will tour the North East in late November followed by an away match to Jamshedpur FC. The Robert Jarni coached side is scheduled to play three consecutive home matches in December, proving a vital phase for them to shape up their season.
January will be yet another cautious month with four back to back away games lined up for them. The team will fly to Goa, then to Chennai, Kolkata and back to Mumbai one again during their 23-day schedule. The John Abraham-owned side will end their campaign with a couple of home and away fixtures.
Technically, it would be foolish to hope for a top-four finish given the number of quality players going out. It will take some time for the team to get into the groove and also adapt the playing style of the coach. New foreign entrants like Maximiliano Barreiro, Kai Heerings, and Asamoah Gyan are expected to deliver as per their potential only after a few matches.
In spite of the huge fan following at home, the Guwahati-based side has managed to win just two of their 10 home matches last season. This is going to be an area of concern for the team. But having said that, it is unlikely that the team will be able to produce something out of the blue this season. So, we can expect Northeast United FC to finish at the 9th position on the league table.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi