A clash between two unbeaten sides in the early stages of the sixth season of Indian Super League beckons as NorthEast United FC play hosts to FC Goa at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Friday.
Robert Jarni’s NorthEast United have had an impressive start to their campaign with four points from two matches. They picked up a point from defending champions Bengaluru FC at their fortress, a feat that not many teams have achieved, and followed it up with a thrilling win over Odisha FC.
NorthEast have shown a tendency to tailor their game to situations. They were cautious against a strong Bengaluru while they controlled the game against Odisha. However, in the second half, they were put under pressure by their opponents and only just managed to nick home a winner late in the game, helped by a red card to Odisha’s Carlos Delgado.
Now, a litmus test awaits them in the form of FC Goa against whom they do not have a great record. They’ve won just two games in 10 attempts against the Gaurs.
Goa, though, have never won in Guwahati ever since Sergio Lobera took over in 2017.
“The stats are made to be broken and we will try to do it this time (improve their poor record against Goa),” said Jarni. “You have a plan for every game and not only Goa. We have played against good teams before that had very fast players. There is a plan. We have to be concentrated and be smart on the pitch.”
NorthEast’s star striker Asamoah Gyan, although yet to achieve full fitness, has shown that his predatory instincts are very much intact. Players such as Redeem Tlang and defender Kai Heerings have been impressive so far. The latter will have to be at his best against a strong Goa attack.
FC Goa have had a curious start to the season so far. While they brushed aside Chennaiyin FC in their first game, they struggled to play their natural game against BFC in a rematch of last year’s final and had a late penalty from Ferran Corominas to thank for salvaging a draw.
“I was very happy after the first match against Chennaiyin FC because the team played very well under difficult circumstances,” Lobera said. “We had only three foreign players, some were injured. But the second match was not good for us. We suffered a lot against Bengaluru. But to get one point is good for us against a difficult side. Every game is different and tomorrow I think it will be a difficult match against a very good team.”
The Gaurs will consider the Bengaluru game to be an anomaly and will look to be at their attacking best on Friday. The threat for NorthEast will not just come from Goa’s foreigners. Indian players such as Seiminlen Doungel, Brandon Fernandes and Seriton Fernandes have been exceptional for Lobera and will prove to be ideal foils for the likes of Ahmed Jahouh and Corominas.
With both sides likely to be in the contentions for places in the knockout stage of the competition, this is a match that neither manager would want to lose.