With the Highlanders once again narrowly missing out on the playoffs Khel Now looks back on another season of missed opportunities for actor John Abraham’s outfit…
Season 3 of the Indian Super League is on the verge of a big finish. The group stages are over and only the semi-finals and the grand finale remain to be played. It has been a fantastic season in the grand football tournament. The only sad note for the whole of Assam, including the rest of the Northeast India would be the fact that NorthEast United FC once again failed to qualify for the semis, finishing 5th with 18 points from 14 games. They only won five games out of 14 and lost six; scoring 14 goals and conceding the same number. So, what went wrong? Were the tactics not up to the mark? Was the coach not good enough? There will be many questions, but only time will tell.
Fact Sheet for ISL Season 3
Season Finished: 5th
Games Played: 14
Won : 5
Lost : 6
Drawn : 3
Win %: 35.72%
With the inclusion of Ivory Coast international Didier Zokora in their squad, along with their goal machine Nicolas Velez and Uruguayan Emiliano Alfaro, the NorthEast United FC management had lots of hopes for this year’s ISL. They finished at the bottom in the first season and jumped to 5th position last time.
However, as their owner John Abraham wanted to see them with the title on the day of the Final, a place in the top four was the minimum target for the season.
The opening game of the ISL this season was played at the home ground of the Highlanders and they started the season in style beating Kerala Blasters followed by another win against FC Goa. Winning both the home games they started their away campaign and tasted the first defeat of the season against eventual league leaders Mumbai City FC. Against FC Pune City, in the next match, the Highlanders repeated their initial performance with a spectacular 1-0 win but after that match it was like a nightmare for Nelo Vingada’s side. They lost four closely contested games in a row, which was enough to throw them out of the race towards the playoffs.
Top 3 Players
|Emiliano Alfaro||Nicolas Velez||Subrata Paul|
|Alfaro was the surprise package of the ISL this season. During the first half of the season, Alfaro was the top scorer and one of the most accurate forwards among all the teams. The prolific Uruguayan has been one of the key players in the Highlanders team this season with his clinical finishing giving them the cutting edge in front of goal. After his impressive show in first five games, he had a frustrating outing against Chennaiyin FC at home, failing to score. However, he found the rhythm back in the next game against Atletico de Kolkata. But, unfortunately, the striker lost his scoring boots in the latter phase of the league and his team struggled as a consequence.||Nicolas Velez aka Nico is a household name in the Northeast after having played two straight seasons for the Highlanders. His impressive performance with three goals overall and an eye-catching show in the current year, making him a prized asset for the Nelo Vingada’s side. However, he was not able to find goals till the match against Atletico de Kolkata, but his assists and near perfect crosses from the left flank regularly found Alfaro upfront to score for the team. Velez was on fire against the match against Chennaiyin FC at Marina Arena scoring two goals, where in a thrilling encounter his team dramatically leveled the match although trailing three times.||One of India’s best goalkeepers Subrata Paul nicknamed Spiderman was signed by the NEUFC management with lots of expectations and Paul did not let them down. Although he had injury concerns in a couple of matches including the final one against Kerala Blasters, Paul showed tremendous skill between the posts to save his team in some of the most crucial moments. With four clean sheets and 35 saves, the shot-stopper was one of the most valuable players of not only NEUFC but also the ISL.|
Shots on Target:24
Shots on Target:17
Goals against: 11
Flop of the Season
Katsumi Yusa: 27-year-old Mohun Bagan skipper Katsumi Yusa carried vast expectations on his shoulders from the beginning of the season. In the absence of Fabio Neves following a injury before the starting of the league, the Highlanders boss Nelo Vingada had no option left than to start with Yusa in each and every game. But, after scoring the very first goal of ISL 3 against Kerala Blasters at Guwahati, the Japanese was not able to find the target during the season. Interestingly, Yusa who almost all the set-pieces for his team during the league, failed to score from a single one. His vast experience of playing in Indian conditions was set to be a major boost for NorthEast United FC this campaign, but unfortunately he could not fulfill those expectations.
Yusa’s Performance in ISL 2016
Matches : 14
Shots on Target: 1
Top 3 Performances
- Chennaiyin FC 3-3 NorthEast United FC ( Match Report and Highlights)
- NorthEast United FC 2-1 Delhi Dynamos FC ( Match Report and Highlights)
- NorthEast United FC 1-0 Kerala Blasters ( Match Report and Highlights)
Manager’s Report Card
Nelo Vingada was appointed as the head coach of NorthEast United after the club had a rift with its previous coach Sergio Farias. Vingada with his vast experience in Asian football, was expected to bring the much-desired success in the ISL for the Highlanders. After taking over the job, the Professor handpicked some of his key players this season to give the team a cutting edge. But, his task to bring the team to the playoffs, which was their initial goal, was in vein. To be honest, Vingada was successful as a coach in shaping the team. More consolidation in attack, midfield and defense was visibly seen on the pitch in comparison to the earlier editions of the ISL. If the NEUFC think-tank can stick with the coach next season, a much more competitive side can be expected from the Highlanders.
Lessons to be learned
The attack was their key problem. NorthEast did not have enough firepower in the final third in the big games, which cost them a chance to make it through to the final four. They only scored 14 goals in 14 matches; which is not enough for any team to get into the playoffs. Conceding only 14 goals is still acceptable. The defence loked quite formidable with the likes of Zokora, Gustavo Lazzereti, Nirmal Chettri, Rowlin Borges and Romaric. However, the lack of options upfront was a telling factor. Once Alfaro’s goals dried up and with Velez continually struggling to find the net, their form tapered off spectacularly. Ultimately, it was another season of missed opportunities, but one from which they can bounce back stronger if the right areas are addressed.
Tarini Saikia, Guwahati
It is heartbreaking to know that the team could not sustain the winning spree even though for the first 10 days of the tournament the team topped the table with 10 points ( 3 wins and 1 draw) However it was good to see our team in 5th place.
The two main reasons of our failure according to me were:
1. Injuries to Nico Velez and Subrata Paul.
2. Our bench strength was not good enough in terms of depth in quality.
Photos © ISL Media
Editorial by Khel Now Correspondent Himangshu Rajkhowa. He is big football and cricket fan.