Guwahati, September 30: For four successive years, NorthEast United FC have tried but failed to win a place in the play-offs of the Hero Indian Super League. They’ve come close twice, and as the fifth edition of the ISL kicks off, the Highlanders will be keen to kickstart on a positive note when they face FC Goa at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati, on Monday.
It will not be easy for NorthEast United. FC Goa have a measure of continuity about them as head coach Sergio Lobera takes charge of the team for a second successive season, while the hosts will be playing under Eelco Schattorie who has been handed the reins. The Dutch coach had come in as an assistant coach last season after the departure of Joao de Deus.
They now sport a completely different look with former PSG striker Bartholomew Ogbeche being their most notable signing. The Nigerian international is expected to be their main threat upfront and will look to improve their efficiency in front of goal.
Croatian duo of Mato Grgic and Mislav Komorski will marshal the defence with Rowllin Borges playing the anchor role in midfield.
“Last season I had the chance to play twice against Goa and in both games we got results – one win and one draw. They were both based on certain weaknesses that we spotted in their team. Hopefully, we can exploit them again. Having said that, we must remember that we have got a relatively new squad who will take time to get used to my methods whereas Goa have a more or less settled squad,” said Schattorie.
Last season’s fixtures between the teams were encouraging for NorthEast. They managed to get the better of Goa 2-1 when the teams faced each other in Guwahati, and in the reverse fixture, Schattorie’s team managed to salvage a 2-2 draw.
FC Goa, on the other hand, have a settled feel about them with most of their key players retained from last season. Last year’s topscorer Ferran Corominas will be the main man upfront and will be supported by Miguel Palanca and Hugo Boumous.
Ahmed Jahouh will be the anchor man in midfield while Lenny Rodrigues and company look to complement the Moroccan.
Goa’s defence had come under the scanner previous season and was their Achilles’ heel. A prolific attack bailed them out on many occasions but Lobera will be keen to ensure they are more solid at the back this time around, without compromising on their attacking instinct.
“We will definitely work on our defending this season. It is true that in order to improve on the defensive part of the team, we have to limit our attacking abilities slightly. But having the team we had last season, we broke so many scoring records. We have a team which is built to be offensive. I always prefer to win a match 5-2 than 1-0,” said Lobera.
FC Goa, as is their nature, will play a possession-based game and NorthEast United will look to exploit them on the counter. But how effective that will be remains to be seen. Monday promises to be exciting and intriguing.