ISL 2019 Preview: With big names in the side, NEUFC get major confidence boost
Given the number of changes they have had across the pitch, it will be an achievement for NorthEast United FC to make it to the playoffs once again.
NorthEast United FC was one of the standout teams in the ISL last season. Having made it to the playoffs for the first time in their history, they were upped by eventual champions Bengaluru FC. However, the Highlanders played some exciting football, led by the mercurial Bartholomew Ogbeche on top of the pitch and the ever-so-meticulous Eelco Schattorie on the sidelines.
However, both of them have left for Kerala Blasters this year, along with several other notable names thus making the job all the more difficult this time around. However, under the able guidance of former Croatian international Robert Jarni, who has been appointed as the manager this season, they will be hoping to go one step further into the finals this year. The arrival of former Sunderland striker and arguably the best Ghanaian footballer ever, Asamoah Gyan should also give a major boost of confidence to all those in the Highlander Brigade.
Setup this season
With 12 goals in 18 games, there is no doubt that Ogbeche will be missed the most by the Highlanders this season. The onus will thus be on Asamoah Gyan to deliver the goods upfront. He is most likely to be supported by Nikhil Kadam and Triadis from out wide.
The midfield is where NorthEast United has several big boots to fill, with Rowllin Borges having left the club after his sensational showcasing in ISL 2018/19 and Federico Gallego set to miss the first half of the season. That leaves a sizeable task in the hands of Fanai, Milan Singh and Lalthathanga who will most likely comprise the midfield. Redeem Tlang, who was another consistent performer for the Guwahati-based side last year will also need to step up if they are to make up for the personnel changes.
The backline consisting of Shouvik Ghosh, Komorksi, new recruit Heerings and Reagan Singh will be hoping to continue being as miserly in terms of conceding goals as possible. The focus will primarily be on Heerings, who has been roped in to fill the gaping hole left by Mato Grgic who departed for Mumbai City FC. Pawan Kumar, one of the best keepers in the ISL last year will be the first choice option under the bars.
Goalkeepers: Pawan Kumar, Soram Anganba, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury.
Defenders: Mislav Komorski, Kai Heerings, Wayne Vaz, Nim Dorjee Tamang, Pawan Kumar, Provat Lakra, Shouvik Ghosh, Reagan Singh, Rakesh Pradhan.
Midfielders: Jose Leudo, Milan Singh, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Lalengmawia, Lalrempuia Fanai, Alfred Lalroutsang, Panagiotis Triadis, Redeem Tlang, Ninthoi Meetei, Nikhil Kadam.
Forwards: Maximiliano Barreiro, Asamoah Gyan, Martin Chaves.
Three key players
Young and energetic with innate ability to read the game, Tlang was one of the breakout stars for the Highlanders last season. He played every game (19), made 75 tackles and ten interceptions which meant he was involved with almost every phase of play in the middle of the park. The former Shillong Lajong man will have to play an even bigger role in this campaign, as the departure of Borges and the unavailability of Gallago will mean he might have to wear the creative playmaking hat as well.
Bought in to replace Borges directly, Chaves is a promising attacking midfielder from Uruguay. He will most likely be tasked to function as the creative fulcrum of the team, providing the service to Gyan. The 21-year-old has looked in-form during the pre-season and was especially eye-catching in the friendly against the Indian national team a couple of days back. He is still quite the unknown exponent, but he just might be the surprise package that the Highlanders need to dominate once again this year.
Probably the biggest signing in the ISL this year, Asamoah Gyan is a proven goal-scorer and is a more than the suitable candidate to replace Ogbeche. With over 150 goals in his professional career that saw him play in the English Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1, Gyan is most popular for his performances in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. At 33, he still has the pace and power that made him a cult hero in Sunderland, and that was on show against India as he scored the sole goal for the Highlanders in the game. He will be one to watch out for this year, without a doubt.
Given the number of changes they have had across the pitch, it will be an achievement for NorthEast United FC to make it to the playoffs once again. It is more likely that Jarni will take it to match by match and see how his team performs and then set targets.
NorthEast United FC plays their first game away to Bengaluru FC on the 21st of October. Their first home game is against Odisha FC on the 26th.