A revamped NEUFC takes on the might of FC Goa

The two sides bear the frustrations of their misses, though of different magnitudes, in the previous seasons while going into the battle that will open their campaign in the new season.

FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera (L) and NorthEast United coach Eelco Schattorie addressing the media.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

A revamped NorthEast United FC (NEUFC) will be seeking to make the most of the home advantage when it takes on the might of FC Goa in its first outing of Indian Super League 2018/19, at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati on Monday.

FC Goa, the semifinalist last season is one of the most consistent performers in the league finishing in the top-three positions in three out of four seasons so far. But the title has remained elusive for the Gaurs as they faltered in the play-offs on each occasion.

In contrast, the NEUFC performance graph hit a trough each time it tried to reach the play-offs. It has remained a story of unfulfilled aspirations in the past four seasons, where the fifth spot was the best the Highlanders could attain in the league.

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The two sides bear the frustrations of the misses, though of different magnitudes, in the previous seasons while going into the battle that will open their campaign in the new season. “It is the coach’s job to improve the team picking up the flaws in the previous season. The team’s defending was a concern that we will be looking to address this time,” Sergio Lobera, the FC Goa head coach said.

The Gaurs topped the table on both scoring (42 goals) and conceding (28 goals) in the previous season. The arrears in second head eventually caused its exit in the play-off stage.

“We have a team which is built to be offensive. I always prefer to win a match 5-2 than 1-0,” said the former FC Barcelona youth coach, who does not wish to alter his team’s DNA, which always been on an offensive mould. FC Goa has opted for continuity retaining the nucleus of the side.

It has retained last season’s top-scorer Ferran Corominas, who will have the company of Miguel Palanca and Hugo Boumous in the creative zone. Lobera has tried to bring in some changes in the previously faltering back-line by getting two seasoned campaigners – Spaniard Carlos Pena alongside Indian international Nirmal Chettri – in central defence.

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After finishing at the bottom of the table last season, the home side has brought in a lot of changes to the side with the former Paris Saint-Germain player Bartholomew Ogbeche leading the charge.  “Last season we had the chance to play twice against Goa and in both games we got results - one win and one draw. The results were 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 that will take time to get used to my methods whereas Goa has a more or less settled squad,” Eelco Schattorie, the Dutch coach said.

Apparently working on a limited budget, NEUFC's present squad has only six foreigners out of whom the Croatian pair of Mato Grgic and Mislav Komorski will be stationed in the defence, as Schattorie looks to strengthen the spine of the side. Then there is the Uruguayan pair of Juan Cruz Mascia and Federico Gallego, and Ghana’s Augustine Okrah who will figure prominently in the attack. Among the Indians, Rowlin Borges, Rupert Nongrum, Redeem Tlang, Robert Lalthlamuana and Keegan Pereira will be the key contenders for the six spots on offer in the playing eleven.