NorthEast United finished ninth in the ISL last season, with only two wins in 18 games. They sacked Croatian head coach Robert Jarni before the end of the season, with Khalid Jamil leading them towards the end of last season.
This season, they have appointed Spaniard Gerard Nus as their head coach. At the age of 35, Nus is the youngest head coach in the ISL, and will be looking to make his mark in his first job as a head coach since leaving the Ghana national team in 2017.
Nus has overseen a rebuild of the squad, which had been made essential by the departures of some key players from their squad, especially the Indians.
Redeem Tlang has moved to FC Goa, Lalthathanga Khawlhring (Puitea) has joined Kerala Blasters, and Reagan Singh has joined Chennaiyin FC in the off-season.
Redeem and Puitea were particularly important to the attacking play for NorthEast United, but they will now have to be replaced by the other Indian youngsters in the squad.
Young midfielder Lalengmawia had a breakout season in the 2019-20 season, and was one of the shining lights of a disappointing season for NorthEast United last year.
However, the challenge for him now is to maintain that level of performance through the course of another season.
Their other big Indian recruitments for the new season included seasoned professionals like Ashutosh Mehta and VP Suhair. Mehta and Suhair were both important parts of last season's I-League-winning Mohun Bagan side.
Rochharzela is also an addition to the NorthEast United squad that will excite their fans.
NorthEast United look to their foreigners to do the heavy lifting
An overall look at the NorthEast United squad suggests that they cannot put too much pressure on their Indian players. The inexperience of the Indian contingent means that the foreigners in the squad have to step up and perform at an elite level.
The Highlanders seem to have a set defensive combination, with Benjamin Lambot and Dylan Fox set to man the central defensive areas.
Lambot has experience of playing in the Belgian first division - with Cercle Brugge - until 2019, and Nus will look to him to be the leader of the back four.
In addition, Dylan Fox has made the switch from Australia to India, having played for Perth Glory last season.
The attack will also revolve around their foreigners, with two African strikers signed, in Guinean Idrissa Sylla and Ghanian Kwesi Appiah.
An interesting puzzle in the NorthEast United side surrounds Federico Gallego, who has extended his stay with the Guwahati-based club.
Gallego was outstanding in NorthEast United's run through to the ISL semifinal in the 2018-19 season, but had a double leg break in the second leg of that semifinal against Bengaluru FC.
After his recovery, he managed to come back into the NorthEast side last season, but could not have as big an impact as he managed in the season before.
The injury to Asamoah Gyan last season was a dampener to their fortunes after a bright start to the season, with the likes of Andy Keogh and Simon Lundevall not able to fill that gap in the squad.
In summary, it is fair to say that Nus has a big task on his hands to take NorthEast United into the playoffs, especially considering the inexperience of their Indian contingent.
But for the ISL's youngest ever head coach, putting the building blocks in place for future NorthEast United success could be the biggest aim for this season.Published 19 Nov 2020, 12:04 IST