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Goal.com starts a new series, where the head coach of the respective team tells you all that you need to know about their team before the Federation Cup...

MANAGER

Philippe De Ridder took charge of the Snow Lions in 2011 and led them to a first place finish in the I-League second division campaign, by virtue of this, they have qualified to the top flight league of Indian football. The Belgian has previously managed bigger clubs like East Bengal and United SC in the I-League circuit.

He has good memories of the Federation Cup, having won it earlier with East Bengal, a few seasons ago.

TRANSFER DEALINGS
The management and coach moving together in one direction

Though Sushil Kumar Singh and Renedy Singh were part of the side at the start of last season, they moved to Shillong Lajong before the Division 2 campaign began for the North-East side, whom they have now joined permanently

Budhiram Tudu and Nima Tamang joined the forward line from East Bengal and Sikkim Sports Academy respectively.

Among the foreigners in the Federation Cup squad will be South Korean goalkeeper Tae Yoon, Costa Rican defender Michael Steven Rodriguez Gutierrez and Togo midfielder Sogan Kokou.

Their marquee signing of the season has been Anwar Ali, who will hope that the move to the North-East club, helps resurrect his career.

PRE-SEASON

De Ridder was not particularly impressed with his side's pre-season preparations as he felt that all the members of the team did not spend enough time with each other.

"The pre-season was difficult for a couple of reasons. All the players were not together during the preparations. some players arrived late," he said.

TACTICS AND FORMATION

The tactics that the Belgian will employ at the competition remains a mystery, as De Ridder preferred to keep his cards close to his chest. He commented, "I will keep that for myself for now as it could be very variable."

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De Ridder could either opt for a contemporary 4-4-2 formation as per everyone's expectation, or maybe a more compact 4-3-3 arrangement.

Having a look at the Federation Cup squad, Korean goalkeeper Tae Yoon might get the nod between the sticks while keeping guard for him will most likely be the pair of Gutierrez and Anwar Ali.

While the defense will have to be packed to a certain extent, the midfield will have to be equally responsible not to lose possession too easily.

Bhaichung Bhutia might play in a slightly withdrawn position behind the forward line to feed the quicker players in front of him, while making an occasional surprise attack himself.

KEY PLAYERS
Each and everyone will be expected to make a name for himself

It's probably still too early for the coach to judge the calibre of his side's star performers as De Ridder expects his team to perform more as a collective unit. "All my team will be players (to watch) this season," he stated. "We'll play as per our strength. Like every team has its strengths and weaknesses, we are preparing, keeping that in mind."

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Apart from Bhutia of course, all eyes will be on how the foreign recruits perform in the side, while Anwar Ali will have the pressure to restore his lost confidence by putting in consistent performances for his side this season. New recognitions are a high possibility considering that we've not seen much of United Sikkim on the big stage.

It will be interesting to see former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia back in the top division, playing in a slightly withdrawn role.

FEDERATION CUP HOPES AND GROUP RIVALS
The last real test before featuring in the I-League

Talking about the tough group alloted to United Sikkim FC, De Ridder believes that it will be more of a preparation for the I-League than anything else.

"In a way it's unfortunate that we are in a group with three very strong teams, but in another way, it's a very good preparation for the I-League as we'll be facing stronger opponents," he reasoned.

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With Prayag United SC, Pune FC and defending champions Salgaocar FC for company, there is no doubt that United Sikkim FC will be considered as the underdogs of group D in the 34th Federation Cup. It will be interesting to see the Northeastern unit putting up resilient performances in the spirit of the game.


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