Having parted ways with a number of established players from last season, the northeast club face a tough campaign ahead.
New season, new expectations; Nothing’s different at Aizawl either. With the 12th edition of the I-League upon us, Mizoram’s heartbeat and dearest club Aizawl FC too, havent left any stones unturned in preparation for what promises to be yet another exciting season of top-tier football.
In this piece, Khel Now brings you an in-depth analysis of the club, the personnel and everything you need to know ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Last Season’s Performance
After a miraculous title-winning effort in 2016-17, northeastern powerhouse Aizawl FC settled for a pretty average performance last season, finishing in the middle of the table. Following a positive start to the campaign, the team stumbled upon obstacles from the turn of the year. Towards the fag end of the term, the club sacked head coach Paulo Meneses owing to a 7-game winless streak and brought in Santosh Kashyap for the remainder of the season. Change in personality at the apex meant adjusting to new strategies and that took the wind out of Aizawl’s sails.
In the Super Cup, they sent shockwaves initially after going past ISL champions Chennaiyin FC into the quarterfinals. However, their title hopes were dashed by eventual finalists East Bengal. Their AFC Cup fortunes were no different as the People’s Club slumped to the bottom of their group.
The Reds took part in the MPL, MFA Super Cup and LG I-Day Cup
Like any other season, Aizawl are competing in the 2018 Mizoram Premier League. The tournament began in early September and has been earmarked as a perfect platform to kick-off pre-season preparations, ahead of a fresh top flight campaign.
Apart from the MPL, the Reds also took part in the MFA Super Cup and the LG I-Day Cup between June-August.
Aizawl managed to secure the services of Gift Raikhan as the head coach for the upcoming season. The new gaffer joins from NEROCA FC, whom he led to a second place finish last season.
Raikhan made his mark on the sidelines during his stints with different age-group teams at erstwhile Pune FC. In 2012, he led the academy’s U-20 side to an I-League U-20 podium finish. A well-travelled player himself, the former Manipuri left-back will guide the ex-I-League champions and is expected to bring them back on track.
Aizawl have acquired a host of exciting talents – a mix of experience and youth to put it aptly. Former India international defender Govin Singh joins the Reds, having played for NEROCA last season. Midfielder David Lalbiakzara reunites with Govin from the Manipur club. Also joining the side are shot-stopper Gurpreet Singh (from NorthEast United), Lalrinfela (winger), Joe Zoherliana (wing-back), Mizoram state team skipper and defender Lalrinchhana Tochhawng and two exciting teenagers in Jesse Laldinpuia (LW) and Isak Vanlalruatfela (MF).
Among the foreign imports, Liberian forward Ghanefo Ansumana Kromah joins the Reds from Peerless SC. The midfield has been reinforced with the arrival of Kyrgyz midfielder Bektur Talgat Uulu, who has been roped in from Churchill Brothers.
Afghan defender Masih Saighani found peace with Abahani Limited Dhaka while their star midfielder Andrei Ionescu was released at the end of the season. Goalkeepers Avilash Paul and Arup Debnath preferred to move away, joining ATK and Mohammedan SC respectively. William Lalnunfela (Mohun Bagan), Lalthathanga Khawlhring (NEUFC), Lalrozama Fanai (East Bengal), Lalmuankima (ATK), Laldinliana (Chennaiyin) also decided to persue their trade elsewhere.
Goalkeepers: Lalawmpuia, H. Lalremruata, Gurpreet Singh
Defenders: Lalchhuanawma Varte, Hmingthanmawia, SR Lallawmawma, Govin Singh, Lalramhmunmawia, Lalhriatrenga, Lalbiakzuala (B-Tea), Lalrinchhana Tochhawng, Joe Zoherliana, Kareem Omolaja Nurain
Midfielders: David Lalrinmuana, Paul Ramfangzauva, Jesse Laldinpuia Ralte, Hmangaihkima, Albert Zohmingmawia, Roccharzela, Lalruatfela Zote, Isak Vanlalruatfela, Lalrinfela, David Lalbiakzara, Alfred Kemah Jaryan, Bektur Talgat Uulu
Forwards: Ghanefo Ansumana Kromah, Lalkhawpuimawia, Vanlalduatsanga, Leonce Dodoz Zikhai, Jonathan Lalrawngbawla, Lalremsanga Fanai
Formation and Tactics
Gurpreet Singh is expected to don the gloves
Gift Raikhan is known to adopt an attacking style of play injecting a host of young blood into the team. His farsighted strategies have paid off well and earned him much recognition in his managerial terms so far. His defensive organization have often been lauded by opponents.
Talking about the most probable lineup, Gurpreet Singh is expected to don the gloves with Nigerian centre-back Kareem Nurain and Lalrinchhana Tochhwang manning the defence. The coach has plenty of options in the wing-back positions depending on who they play. The midfield is expected to be heavily dominated by David Lalrinmuana, Bektur Talgat Uulu and Alfred Jaryan, while Leonce Dodoz Zikhai and Ansumana Kromah are expected to lead the line. Depending on the opposition’s mentality and style of play, the gaffer would prefer to switch his formation. However, the squad is expected to revolve around a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 in most games, given the roster that Aizawl possess.
The squad has been well-drilled and fine-tuned ahead of the gruelling Indian domestic season
Having parted ways with a good number of well-established players from last season, the Aizawl-based side have been quick and witty in terms of finding replacements. The team looks a strong side on paper to begin with.
The squad has been well-drilled and fine-tuned ahead of the gruelling Indian domestic season that gets underway soon. To have someone of Raikhan’s calibre, who has a decade of managerial knowledge and richess to impart, is certainly a blessing for the club.
Given the roster that Aizawl have, coach Raikhan might just be caught on the backfoot if his young squad is over-exposed too early into the league. It is no secret as to how northeastern clubs tend to field a youth-oriented side with overseas recruits forming the fulcrum.
However, the absence of seasoned Indian campaigners could mean the coach get some more grey hair soon.
— Hero I-League (@ILeagueOfficial) October 12, 2018
For a complete list of all the fixtures, click here.
Players to Watch:
Ansumana Kromah: Kromah brings in a lot of stability to the Aizawl side. His versatility will lighten the load off the coach’s shoulder to some extent. The Liberian can ply his trade on the left flank, as an attacking midfielder and also as an out-and-out striker. Most importantly, Kromah displayed a rich vein of form for Peerless in the recently-concluded Calcutta Football League and will be expected to repeat the same in new colours.
Alfred Jaryan: They call him ‘The General’ in Aizawl and the fans are delighted by the fact that their skipper has decided to put pen to paper for yet another season. The central midfielder from Liberia will be a key figure in the Aizawl lineup, who can also play in a much deeper role when called for. The 2016/17 Best I-League Midfielder awardee is definitely one of the players to watch.
Isak Vanlalruatfela: One of the most talented midfielders in his age group, Isak represented Bengaluru FC B in the AIFF U-18 Youth League last season. His impressive performance for the Bengaluru Colts caught the eye of scouts all over the country. Aizawl was fortunate to rope in the teenager for the upcoming I-League season.
What To Expect
Undoubtedly, the hunger and the passion for excellence is evident in the club’s mentality. The owners, the think-tank and everyone associated with the club has done a decent job in assembling the resources as per the requirement in every department and expect the club to overhaul last season’s shortcomings.