At the end of NorthEast United’s 2-1 defeat to Bengaluru at the Kanteerava during the league phase, Eelco Schattorie was devastated as he tried explaining his side’s loss in front of the television cameras.

The Dutchman stated that his side had 11 shots on target to the hosts’ one, the latter’s first strike was an own goal. They had thrown the kitchen sink at Bengaluru and had still come away with nothing, reminiscent of their first encounter against the Blues where a late Chencho Gyeltshen stunner had deprived them of three points.

Fortunately for Schattorie, he will receive a third and fourth bite at the cherry with NorthEast United qualifying for the Indian Super League play-offs for the first time.

In numbers

NorthEast United Bengaluru FC
Goals 22 29
Wins 7 10
Draws 8 4
Losses 3 4
Clean Sheets 8 5
Top scorer Bartholomew Ogbeche - 12 Sunil Chhetri - 8
Highest assists Federico Gallego - 5 Xisco - 5
Highest saves Pawan Kumar - 29 Gurpreet Sandhu - 55
Highest passes Federico Gallego - 1049 Dimas Delgado - 875
Highest interceptions Rowllin Borges - 27 Erik Paartalu - 21

The Highlanders can take heart from their display against the table toppers back in January. Panagotis Triadis’ pace after coming on, had troubled the Bengaluru high-line and the Greek had played a major part in NorthEast creating 16 scoring chances, their highest of the season.

It is interesting that Federico Gallego, the man who has created more chances and laid on more assists than any other NorthEast United player also has made the most tackles of any in the side. Coupled with the fact that Bartholomew Ogbeche, their top-scorer has conceded the most fouls, NorthEast’s high pressing approach could play a big factor in these semi-finals.

Bengaluru have also conceded the most goals through counters this season (6) and their insistence to play a high-line combined with NorthEast’s press has the potential to form a lethal cocktail for last year’s losing finalists.

Gurpreet Sandhu hasn’t been the safest pair of hands in Bengaluru’s goal and against the shot-taking machine that is Ogbeche, the Punjabi may have a busy night. Ogbeche has taken 72 shots this season, 21 more than any other player in the league.

A massive 36% of the goals that NorthEast have scored have come late, after the 75th minute. Their tally of seven goals scored from set-pieces is also the highest percentage of all the semi-finalists and they might fancy their chances from a free-kick or a corner on Thursday evening.

Eelco Schattorie on the reliance on Ogbeche and Gallego: I wish I had more options. More choices going into this game. So, if you ask me what we did this season different from last season, what I emphasised a lot on that is we try to build a firm foundation of being very organised defensively and as a team, try to work for each other. We rely only on Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego for goals and assists. After that, one Indian player is Rowllin Borges who picked in with some goals. Our result is based on good organization and high work rate

NorthEast United's points progression through the season. (Image courtesy: ISL Media)
NorthEast United's points progression through the season. (Image courtesy: ISL Media)

NorthEast United’s reliance on the two, however, could lead to their undoing. Ogbeche has scored 12 of their 22 goals, more than half and only three others have scored goals for the Highlanders. Bengaluru’s goals on the other hand, have been shared among 10 players, and it has been a great team effort on part of the Blues.

Stopping Ogbeche and Gallego will be key to Bengaluru’s plan, as Redeem Tlang and Lalthathanga ‘Puitea’ Khawlring may have a heavier burden on their shoulders. Bengaluru’s high-line could also serve to cut off NorthEast’s passing approach and suffocate them, with the Blues’ attacking full-backs Keegan Pereira/Reagan Singh and Robert Lalthamuana pushing ahead.

Schattorie’s team have also conceded the most goals through crosses, a worry for the wide defenders. Miku’s return to form has come at the right time for Bengaluru, and as he displayed against Goa, he retains the ability to hold up the ball on his own. That could help the visitors stretch the play from the back in Guwahati and hit the hosts on the counter.

But Bengaluru’s form after the turn of the year has been inconsistent. They bagged 27 points in the first 11 ISL games but have seven in as many matches since. Most of those games were without Miku, however. The Venezuelan hit-man has presumably recovered and will play in front of Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Xisco.

Bengaluru’s Indian contingent has scored more goals than any of their counterparts in the league with Chhetri and Udanta contributing for 13 goals and four assists. The loss of Erik Paartalu will be huge, but the Blues will be buzzing after the 3-0 win over Goa. That result may spark a change in current form.

Bengaluru's points progression through the season. (Image courtesy: ISL Media)
Bengaluru's points progression through the season. (Image courtesy: ISL Media)

Carles Cuadrat on recent form: “From Christmas to here, we have won two games. That is exactly what NorthEast and Mumbai did in the same period. I don’t feel we are not in a good form in comparison to the other teams. The four of us are powerful teams. In general, for the league, it’s very nice. There is going to be a new champion. It means that other teams are doing the job. I’m really happy that NorthEast are first time in the playoffs. It’s a gift for all the supporters who have been supporting the team in the last four years.”