When the league started, NorthEast United weren’t on the list of favourites. The team which finished last and fifth in the previous editions of the ISL had a pre-season crisis when their newly appointed coach Sergio Farias parted ways even before the start of the league to join Thai club, Suphanburi FC.
The team then roped in veteran Portuguese coach Nelo Vingada as their manager and from what it seems now, Farias leaving might have been a blessing in disguise for the Highlanders. After 5 matches, NorthEast United currently tops the league table with 10 points and anyone would agree that the team is playing really good football.
NorthEast opened their campaign with a lacklustre 1-0 win against Kerala Blasters in the season opener at Guwahati. Katsumi Yusa had a dream ISL debut by scoring the winner. Next up was last season’s runners-up, FC Goa, who they had never beaten in the history of ISL.
Playing again at home, NorthEast stepped up their game and convincingly defeated the Goan side by a margin of two goals. Uruguay forward Emiliano Alfaro scored a beautiful brace to make his presence felt in the league.The Highlanders then travelled to Mumbai next for their first away game. They lost the match 1-0, despite playing a good game, courtesy an unfortunate penalty.
But without any deter, the team bounced back against Pune, beating them 1-0 at home, another first for the team. And in their latest game, NorthEast played out a convincing 1-1 draw against Delhi, which was until now the most exciting match of the league.
Game Play and Marquee Player
As stated before, the playing philosophy of Nelo Vingada centres a lot on creating good balls during counter attacks. NorthEast United, with a packed defence, absorbs the opposition attack and uses the pace of the forwards to counter and score.
The team has a very clinical backline with marquee player Didier Zokora being the common link between the midfield and the defence. The Ivory Coast midfielder has put himself in the role of a centre back while Brazilian defender Gustavo Lazzaretti ably stands beside him.
To be honest, compared to other marquee names, Zokora isn’t that huge a name. But from what it seems now, he has proved himself to be the most effective marquee player in the league so far. He has led the team really well and with him standing at the back, Subrata Pal definitely has a lot to be confident about.
The scintillating trio
The trio of Emiliano Alfaro, who is currently the leading goal scorer of the tournament, Katsumi Yusa and Nicholas Velez have created a unique reputation for themselves in the league. Three of them together have 5 goals and 3 assists to their names as they continue to create havoc in the opposition defence. It’s Velez and Alfaro’s pace and Katsumi’s skills in the midfield that have constantly provided the magic for the Highlanders.
Impressive Indian players
Several Indian names have also consistently clicked for the team from the NorthEast. Rowling Borges leads the list with his impressive holding midfield skills. Not only has he bravely intercepted great balls but he also has created quite a few moves up front.
Local Assamese boy Holicharan Narzary is another name who has proved his vital presence on the left flank. Despite having just one assist to his name, Narzary has time and again terrorised opposition defences with his energetic runs.
Another key player has been Seityasen Singh. In the matches that he has played, Singh has managed to create quite a good impression on his coach.
A special mention here also goes to goalkeeper Subrata Pal. With many arguing that the goal against Delhi was conceded mainly due to Subrata’s mistakes, we should also remember that he has kept three clean sheets so far and made crucial saves in the second and the third match.