One of the most underrated teams in the 2016 ISL has to be NorthEast United. Before the start of the tournament, the team did not look quite as good as others did. But in the first four matches, the side from the North-east have proved many wrong and have climbed to the top of the table with nine points.
Much of the credit here goes to the team coach Nelo Vingada. The experienced coach, who is popularly called as the ‘Professor’, has found his right combination for the team and using his 27 years of coaching experience in Asia, has built a side which managed to play three games in a week and yet put on a more than satisfactory show.
Understanding that the core of Vingada’s team lies in his midfield, NorthEast United usually resort to a 3-5-2 formation, which later mutates to a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Trying to understand Vingada’s philosophy, his team, with a packed defence absorbs the opposition attack and uses the pace of the forwards to counter and score. This is exactly what’s happening in the last few games.
The attacking trio
Killer counter-attacks have been a trademark of The Highlanders and the effectiveness this tactic of NorthEast United credited to their killer trio of Katsumi Yusa, Nicolas Velez and Emiliano Alfaro.
Uruguayan forward Emiliano Alfaro wasn’t one of the most talked about players at the start of the league, but the 28-year-old today leads the top goal scorer’s chart with 3 goals in his four appearances. The Uruguayan can be characterised by his powerful runs and his ability to get past his marker, piercing the opposition attack.
He is really good at exerting pressure at the opposition and a good example of it would be his first goal of the league against Goa. With his wit, he caught Goa keeper Laxmikant Kattimani in a tiff, who fumbled with the back pass of Joffre and ended up conceding a goal. His second goal was a testimony to his speed with him combining with Holicharan Narzary to score a brilliant goal.
Nicolas Velez is the other name who has grabbed quite a few headlines with him being a very compatible assistant of Alfaro. The highest scorer of NorthEast United, who earned his distinction as a ‘super sub’ last season, has started regularly for Nelo Vingada this time. He has created great opportunities this year but unfortunately hasn’t yet been on the score sheet. He, however, has one assist to his name.
Velez just needs a little touch-up on his finishing skills and he will evolve as a dangerous attacking weapon who Vingada can rely upon at the time of the crisis. The speciality of this Argentine is that he can play on the either flanks of the park very well and can carry the ball with insane pace. Velez usually plays on the left wing and given a chance he can dribble the ball from the midfield to the attacking third.
Another noteworthy name here is that of Japanese midfielder Katsumi Yusa. The Mohun Bagan midfielder, who made his ISL debut this season, became the first player to score a goal in this campaign and has been the driving force of the NorthEast United midfield. Yusa has a goal and an assist to his name while with 11 tackles, he is one of the top five players with regards to that aspect of the game. The Japanese is fast, sleek and highly energetic and is just the spark Nelo Vingada needed in his midfield.
This trio of Alfaro, Velez and Yusa has been quite a rage for NorthEast United and courtesy their brilliant play, the Highlanders sit at the top of the table. NEUFC also happens to be the team with the most number of attempts on target (19), and this is despite the fact that they don’t have the majority of possession in a match. The team knows the effective use of the ball and hardly lose shape whenever they attack.
It would be noteworthy here to mention the name of Subrata Paul who has been absolutely phenomenal at the post. With 16 saves, he is well in course of becoming a strong contender for the golden glove award. And to add a silver lining, he has three clean sheets in four matches. The only goal he conceded was an unfortunate penalty scored by Mumbai skipper Diego Forlan. Among other players, Rowllin Borges and Holicharan Narzary are two players who also have done well.
NorthEast United, as a team, have matured thanks to a combination of Indian as well foreign players. They next play Delhi Dynamos FC at Delhi on 15 October and who can bet against them staying at the top of the ISL standings?
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