As the count to the fourth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) ticks down, Goal analyses the strengths and weaknesses of each of the ten clubs participating this time around.
Next in line are NorthEast United FC, who are hoping to reach the playoffs for the first time in the fourth season of the tournament.
The John Abraham-owned outfit are one of the two teams who have been ousted from the league stage in all the three editions of ISL. After Aizawl FC won the I-League last season it is the now NorthEast United's turn to bring some glory for their fans.
They have roped in new coach Joao De Deus after Nelo Vingada left to take over the Malaysian national team and understandably have a new look squad. In came Joao de Deus and the Portuguese is expected to take the club to unchartered territory of making it into the play-offs.
This is how their squad looks like for ISL 4:
Goalkeepers: Rehenesh TP, Gurpreet Singh Chabhal, Ravi Kumar
Defenders: Abdul Hakku, Gursimral Gill, Nirmal Chettri, Reagan Singh, Robert Lalthlamuana, Sambinha, Jose Goncalves, Martin Diaz.
Midfielders: Rowllin Borges, Lalrindika Ralte, Larempuia Fanai, Malemngamba Meitei, Sushil Meitei, Marcinho, Adilson Goiano, Halicharan Narzary.
Forwards: Danilo, Luis Paez, Odair Fortes, Seminlen Doungel.
NorthEast United FC, representing that region of the country which is supposed to be one of the hotbeds of Indian football, has failed to make a mark in the cash-rich league so far. However, this season they have put together a fairly decent squad.
The strongest position in the NorthEast United squad is their midfield. They have two vital cogs in their midfield arsenal - Lalrindika Ralte and Rowllin Borges. Rowllin is a trusted lieutenant of Indian coach Stephen Constantine and arguably one of the best defensive midfielders in the country. The strong, tall midfielder plays a pivotal role in his team. Naturally, he was one of the two players retained by the franchise this season.
Didika Ralte is not an unknown face in Indian football. A few years back he was a crucial member of the Indian side. Unfortunately, injuries kept him away from action but he had a solid season last time around. Along with Rowllin, Didika will be a key player for The Highlanders.
They have also roped in Brazilian midfielder Marcinho this season, who has the experience of playing in the Bulgarian league for CSKA Sofia. The Brazilian midfielder will be the key man in the attacking third for the team.
If midfield is the strength of NorthEast United, then their goalkeeping and striking department are their weak links. The franchise retained goalkeeper Rehenesh TP from last season. The other two goalkeepers they bought in the player draft were Ravi Kumar and Gurpreet Singh Chabhal.
Other than Rehenesh, both goalkeepers are rookies and will be making their debuts in ISL. Rehenesh himself is quite error prone and concedes silly goals at crucial junctures of the season. For East Bengal last season in the I-League, the Kerala-born goalkeeper conceded a ridiculous goal against Chennai City FC which cost the Red and Golds the match and eventually the title. With Rehenesh being the team’s only viable option under the bar, goalkeeping department will be a concern for Joao Carlos Pires de Deus.
Their strike force too lacks firepower upfront. None of their foreign recruits - Danilo, Luis Paez and Odair Fortes - have played enough matches in the last two seasons. Colombian Luis Paez appeared in just one match for Rionegro Aguila this season while Fortes played only five games for Reims in Ligue 2 this year.
Among the Indian strikers, they have Seminlen Doungel who hardly appeared for Bengaluru FC last season. NorthEast's full-backs also hardly inspire any confidence. Robert Lalthlamuana, Nirmal Chettri and Raegan Singh have not really been in the best of forms.
23-year-old Kerala born Abdul Hakku started his football career with DSK Shivajians. Growing up in DSK’s academy, he made his senior debut in 2015-16. After spending two seasons with Pune side, he moved to I-League second division team Fateh Hyderabad. The defender played 15 matches for the side and was one of their main players.
His performance caught the eyes of NorthEast United's recruiters as they bought the player from draft this season. Hakku can play both as a centre-back as well as a right full-back. ISL 4 is a perfect stage for a youngster like him to showcase his talent and make a claim for a spot in the senior national side.
The Danger Man
The best recruit for NorthEast United FC this season is midfielder Marcinho who joined The Highlanders from Turkish Super Lig side Gaziantepspor. The midfielder played 25 matches this year which suggests he has been in good shape for almost the entire year. It is expected that coach Deus will shape his team around the Brazilian.
The Highlanders have some flaws in their team but overall do seem to have assembled a promising squad. But whether that will be enough to propel them into the knockout stages is another debate altogether.