The league leaders will look to extend the run of form against the beleaguered Highlanders.
Struggling NorthEast United FC welcome Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 top four favourites Chennaiyin FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.
The Highlanders have endured a torrid campaign so far and currently lie second from bottom in the league standings. After parting ways with Joao de Deus halfway through the season, NorthEast turned to former Chelsea manager Avram Grant under whom, they’ve won and lost a game each, so far. They come up against an in-form Chennai outfit, who are one of the contenders to finish the league stage at the summit of the table. The southerners head into the contest on the back of 1-0 win over FC Pune City and will be looking to extend their five-match unbeaten streak during which they’ve notched up three wins. Friday’s encounter thus, promises to be an end-to-end contest with NorthEast in desperate need of a victory in front of their home fans.
All is still not lost for NorthEast United and assistant coach Eelco Schattorie can see that his team is still up for a fight.
“The overall atmosphere is fine. Players have the intention to do their job. They are motivated to do something together. Regarding the team gelling or getting tactics implemented, that always takes time, specially offensively. Defensively we don’t have too many problems,” Schattorie said during the pre-match media interaction.
NorthEast United will battle for points against the table-toppers and Schattorie felt the coaching staff will not have to do much on the motivation bit.
“We play the number one team and normally as a coach you don’t have to motivate anyone if you play the number one in the league,” he said.
NorthEast United meantime has signed Helio Pinto as their additional (eight) international player and the former Benfica midfielder could have a role to play.
Chennaiyin FC, too, won’t need too much of prep talk from coach John Gregory as they attempt to win as many matches possible to secure their position at the top of the table.
“John has been a big inspiration for the team. Once the players get inside (the field), they are the boss and nothing matters. The boys are really motivated. They want to win all these games for John,” said assistant coach Syed Sabir Pasha, filling in for suspended head coach to addressed media on the eve. John will be serving his last of the three match suspension.
Despite the 13 points separating them to the home team, Chennaiyin FC are not taking anything for granted.
“Every match is important. Delhi (Dynamos) drew with us and we cannot take any team lightly. Every team is good and have important players. We are coming away from home and playing in different conditions. It’s always difficult. We must take these three points,” said Pasha.
Head to head
Brazilian Marcinho has been NorthEast’s midfield talisman this year, having put on numerous outstanding displays for the Highlanders in what’s been a disappointing campaign. A strong runner with the ball as well as a physical presence on the pitch, Marcelinho has been involved in most of NorthEast’s attacks and has scored two goals, while also providing an assist. He will need to have a good game against the 2015 champions if NorthEast are looking for a positive outcome.
Mizo Sniper Jeje Lalpekhlua is arguably in the middle of his best Hero ISL campaign yet, having found the back of the net on six occasions this season. The Indian international has been in fine form after a slow start to the campaign and has been a constant menace to opposition backlines. The 27-year-old will have to be kept quiet if the Highlanders are to secure a much need three points at home.
Potential Starting Lineups
NorthEast United FC
The Highlanders may use the 4-2-3-1 formation, hoping to utilize their midfield and flanks to good effect.
Goalkeeper: TP Rehenesh
Forward: Danilo Lopes
The host’s assistant coach Eelco Schattorie on the mindset of the team: “The overall atmosphere is fine. It’s pretty good. From the first day I have arrived till now, the most important thing I have seen is that the players have the intention to do the job. They are motivated to do something together, which is very positive.”
John Gregory will most probably also go for the 4-2-3-1 formation, which gives them options in midfield to provide good service for Jeje.
Goalkeeper: Karanjit Singh
Forward: Jeje Lalpekhlua
The visitor’s assistant coach Syed Sabir Pasha on their opponents of the night: “Every team is important, every game is important. We can’t take any team lightly. Every team is good, every team has some important players. So, tomorrow’s match is also very important for us. We are coming away from home and playing in different conditions, so it is always difficult. I think, it’s very important to take these three points and we are focused on it.”