Will NorthEast United finally crack the ISL puzzle?

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NorthEast United has been one of the most fascinating stories of the ISL. Boasting of one of the most passionate and devoted fan bases in the ISL, they have only managed to make it to the playoffs just twice. The Highlanders came mightily close last season, pushing ATK Mohun Bagan in their play-offs tie with Luis Machado missing from the spot in the return leg with the score at 2-1 in favour of the Mariners, losing the game 3-2 on aggregate.

Khalid Jamil replaced Gerard Nus midway last season with 11 games done. Khalid pushed the Highlanders over the playoffs hurdle for the second time in their history. After his impressive interim stint as the head coach, Northeast management have decided to take a bold step, something that is unprecedented in the ISL, offering Khalid Jamil the full-time head coach. Khalid Jamil has got himself etched in ISL history as the first Indian head coach of an ISL side, can he also be a part of Northeast folklore?

Will NorthEast United finally crack the ISL puzzle? khalid jamil

Assesment of Northeast United’s Transfer Window

Northeast United were bled dry of some of their finest talents by their compatriots in the ISL. With Apuia moving to Mumbai City and Ninthoi Meetei switching to Chennaiyin, Northeast lost two of its brightest Indian talents. Ashutosh Mehta too moved back to Kolkata re-joining the Mariners and Dylan Fox was snatched up by FC Goa. Benjamin Lambot left too, moving back to Belgium and Luis Machado moved to Poland, leaving Khalid with some huge holes to fill in the squad.

While they lost players, they were able to retain the services of Deshorn Brown, who has found new life in North East, Federico Gallego, who will be donning Northeast colours for the fourth straight season and Khassa Camarra, who was a revelation in central midfield for the Highlanders last season. They have signed Hernan Santana, who donned the Mumbai blue last season, Patrick Flottmann and Mathias Coureur who will be making their ISL debuts.

Northeast has also strengthened their Indian core with the singing of some experienced players in the form of Shehnaz Singh, who has extensive experience of playing in the I-league and the ISL. Laldanmawia Ralte and William Lalnunfela were both members of Khalid Jamil’s I-Leauge winning Aizawl FC squad and have been roped in by the Highlanders this season from Hyderabad and Jamshedpur respectively. They have invested in youth too, signing Joe Zoherliana from Chennaiyin, Emmanuel Lalchhanchhuaha from Bengaluru and Gani Nigam and Manvir Singh from Mohammedan and Sudeva FC respectively.

Will NorthEast United finally crack the ISL puzzle? EBnAPxhU0AAsdZn

Squad Analysis

Goalkeepers

If you are even remotely aware of Indian football, it is almost given that Subhasish Roy Chowdhury will be Khalid Jamil’s number 1 this season. The 35-year old shot-stopper is well and truly a veteran of the game and Subhasish will be beginning his 18th season as a professional footballer this season. Subhasish will also be on the Northeast roster for the third straight season, his longest stint at a club since 2014 after leaving Dempo, where he played for 5 years and won the I-League. The backup goalkeeping option is something that will concern Khalid. Northeast have signed Mirshad Michu from East Bengal and have retained the services of Sanjiban Ghosh. In his four seasons with East Bengal, Mirshad has been between posts only 11 times, while Sanjiban Ghosh who was signed from Chennaiyin last season, is yet to make his Northeast debut.

Will NorthEast United finally crack the ISL puzzle?

Defenders

The Dylan Fox and Benjamin Lambot partnership in Northeast’s central defence last season provided a sense of solidarity. With both players leaving the club ahead of the 2021/22 season, Northeast had to look for substitutes. Hernan Santana played for Mumbai City FC last season on loan from Sporting Gijon and was signed up for free this season by Northeast. In Hernan, they have a central defender who has played in the ISL before and has experience of playing in the different tiers of Spanish football. Mashoor is likely to be Hernan’s partner in crime and given that the Malappuram born defender has experience of playing under Khalid, he could help bring his Spanish counterpart up to speed. Northeast also has signed Patrick Flottmann from Sydney FC in the A-League and the Aussie could come in handy if results do not go the North-East way.

With the loss of Asutosh Mehta, Northeast lacked the first choice Right Back in the squad and they have added Joe Zoherliana to mitigate that void. While they have replaced Asutosh with Joe for a like for like signing, Northeast lacks a proper backup Right Back with only Provat Lakra available as an understudy who can operate as a full-back on either side of the pitch. Gurjinder Kumar will be operating at Left Back and with the signing of Tondomba Singh from Mumbai, Khalid has an able replacement if needed. Mohammed Irshad and Jestin George both new signings from I-League clubs also provide much needed cover in the central defence position

Will NorthEast United finally crack the ISL puzzle? Santana

Midfielders

Khalid Jamil will bank on Khassa Camara and Federico Gallego to run his midfield this season. While Camara operates from a deep-lying box to box midfield role, his partnership with Apuia last season helped Northeast United to control the midfield. With Apuia gone, Khalid is likely to turn to Imran Khan who came on to his own under Khalid Jamil in the latter half of last season. With Camara and Imran, Khalid likely plays with a double pivot. Also, the availability of Sehnaj Singh will be an added boost as it provides Khalid with options to tinker with.

Most of Northeast’s creative play will flow through Gallego. The Uruguayan has taken to life in the Northeast and the Highlanders will hope he stays fit throughout the season. Young Emmanuel Lalchhanchhuaha is likely to be the Uruguayan’s understudy this season. V.P. Suhair and Rochharzela will be operating the wings with Laldanmawia and Lalkhawpuimawia likey to be their understudy. Mathias Coureur also can play on the wings if needed but given the astute Indian wingers available to Khalid Jamil, the Martinique international can concentrate on goal scoring.

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Forwards

Deshorn Brown moved to Northeast during the Winter Transfer window last season and seemed to have found his missing scoring boots. The Jamaican netted 5 goals in 10 games last season for the Highlanders and is going to lead their attack in the 2021/22 season. As a backup to Brown, Northeast have signed up Mathias Coureur from Samsunspor in the Turkish second division. Coureur is a versatile forward player who can play on the wings too. Goals win you matches and both Coureur and Brown will have the onus on them to put the ball in the back of the net when they turn up to play.

Manvir Singh and Gani Nigam are young forwards signed up from the I-League who will be getting their first taste of the ISL and will be eager to impress. Northeast United’s wingers also have a knack for finding the back of the net. Both Laldanmawia and Lalkhawpuimawia can also play as central forwards along with the ability to play on the wings. Suhair too is most likely to operate from a wide position, but the Keralite can also play as a centre forward if the need arises. William Lalnunfela is another Indian forward in their ranks who has prior experience of playing under Khalid Jamil and can help with the goal scoring. Northeast seemed to have amassed enough firepower to propel them through this season if the guns fire.

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Possible Line Up

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Strength and Weakness

Northeast look like a threat attacking wise and much of this is owed to Chhara and V.P. Suhair who were brilliant last season and with the addition of Laldanmawia, they have very potent attacking threats on the wings which will cause their oppositions headaches. Northeast have kept their entire spine intact from last season except for the loss of their two main central defenders. The retention of Gallego and Camara was great business both on and off the pitch. Khalid Jamil led the Northeast side ably last season after the abrupt end to Gerard Nus’ stint and Khalid who has extensive knowledge of coaching in India in the I-League and his deep understanding of the abilities of Indian footballers makes Northeast a greater threat than perceived. Northeast have extensively spent on youth since their inception and going with the theme they have once again invested in young Indian players this season and the Northeast management will hope under Khalid Jamil these youngsters blossom into bright footballers.

One of Northeast’s Achilles heels this season will be their defence. Even though Hernan Santana can play as a defender, he is primarily a central midfielder. Though he has played in the ISL before, a makeshift central defender could be a reason for worry. Northeast will miss Apuia this season and even though Khalid has options in Imran and Sehnaj Singh to replace Apuia in the starting 11, how well that works out for him can only be answered once the league commences on the 19th of November. Another defensive worry that will nag at Khalid Jamil is the presence of a proper backup right back. Even though they signed Joe, they lost Asutosh, thus leaving Khalid Jamil to do with only one recognised right back. While Gallego is a fan favourite and works wonders when he is on the pitch, the Uruguayan has the knack of picking up injuries as defenders sometimes find him hard to contain and the lack of another creative midfield option could be another reason for worry at Northeast.

Will NorthEast United finally crack the ISL puzzle? NorthEast United FC players

Probable finish in the league table

Another playoff appearance is what Northeast United will be targeting this season. While Northeast have assembled a great unit so has the other clubs around them and making the top four this season will be a lot more difficult. If not the play-offs, Northeast will be definitely challenging for the top 4 places this season and if you are a fan of Indian football you know Khalid Jamil has achieved a lot more with a lot less at his disposal the last time he was at the helm of a North Eastern outfit. Will Khalid weave his magic again?

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