While all the other Indian Super League franchises are representing a city or a state, NorthEast United is the only club that stands for an entire region. The club owned by Bollywood actor John Abraham represents seven sisters of India, a region where many top Indian football players hail from.
Despite being a hotbed for football, the NorthEast United never lived up to their potential in the past four seasons of the Indian Super League. They are the only team yet to get to play-off (let's forget Jamshedpur FC as they have entered the league last season).
The last season was the worst as Highlanders' finished the campaign at the rock bottom of the table collecting puny 11 points -- the least by any team in the ISL's four-year history. The defence conceded 27 goals while they could manage to net only 12 goals in return.
The result is a massive overhaul. NorthEast United has retained only six players from the last season and their foreign contingent is entirely new having no experience in the ISL. The backroom staff has also changed and the squad is now led by Eelco Schattorie who was assistant to manager Avram Grant last season. The squad is also young compared to last year. The biggest question is can the Highlanders break the playoff jinx in the ISL 5?
NorthEast United squad for 2018-19
Goalkeepers- Rehenesh TP, Pawan Kumar, Gurmeet
Defenders- Mato Grgic, Mislav Komorski, Reagan Singh, Keegan Pereira, Pawan Kumar, Provat Lakra, Gurwinder Singh, Robert Lalthlamuana
Midfielders- Jose David Leudo, Federico Gallego, Agustine Okrah, Rowllin Borges, Seityasen Singh, Fanai Lalrempuia, Nikhil Kadam, Redeem Tlang, Simranjit Singh, Lalthathanga Khawlring, Rupert Nongrum.
Forwards- Girik Khosla, Kivi Zhimomi, Juan Cruz Mascia, Bartholomew Ogbeche
Team analysis and strength
"You can't make a Ferrari from a Mini Cooper", Schattorie words about his new club is not promising enough. Having said that, the former East Bengal coach is known for extracting the best of each player. The team is not expected to make a huge impact in the initial rounds while as the league gets going, NorthEast United may emerge a more composed side.
New signing in the attack Bartholomew Ogbeche is exceptional so far netting five goals in the pre-season. If he manages to sustain the momentum, NorthEast's attack will be dangerous. Kivi Zhimomi and Girik Khosla are relatively inexperienced while they can make a mark in the current season.
NorthEast United also boasts of depth in their midfield. Rupert Nongrum and Seityasen Singh are expected to operate from midfield with Nikhil Kadam and Redeem Tlang will play on the flanks. Federico Gallego and Juan Cruz Mascia also make the team stronger.
Area of concern
NorthEast United may rely on its foreign contingent too much in the fifth season. Bartholomew Ogbeche at the front and Croatian duo of Mato Grgic and Mislav Komorski at the back are an almost irreplaceable duo with lack of quality backups. Considering the team is based out of North East, lack of good local players also raises concern over the recruitment policy.
TP Rehenesh is the man between the sticks for the NorthEast from day 1. However, there is not much of a competition for Pawan Kumar and Gurmeet. The Kerala-born goalkeeper is also not clinical as many others in the tournament and hence, the defence will have a tough job to not let the opposition forwards sneak in.