“What a goal! Ooh, Mascia Magic!” – the commentator hollered in ecstasy and admiration as Juan Cruz Mascia scored a thunderbolt in the 95th minute of the match against Kerala Blasters FC in front of the home fans, to clinch a victory from the jaws of defeat. Not a single Highlander could contain their emotions as they roared, jumped and chanted in joy, a night to never forget! But in 2016, in the final do-or-die game for both the teams, C.K. Vineeth scored the only goal in the 66th minute in Kochi, to smash the dreams and hopes of the Highlanders to reach the playoffs for the very first time. Therefore, when these two teams square off, entertainment and adrenaline are always guaranteed. It is a historic match for North East United FC as they will play their hundredth game in ISL and will be willing to continue their excellent start of the season. Kick-off will be at 19:30 from the GMC stadium.
NorthEast United FC
Gerard Nus’s era at North East United FC began with a handsomely disciplined win over the mighty Mumbai City FC. The well-drilled team proved too much, as Sergio Lobera’s side struggled to find any space to work with creating only half-chances and ended the match with zero shots on target. The lingering doubts of the ‘experts’ and some fans over the team and the coach subsidized after the game. A new hope has emerged for this rebuild and success under Nus.
Picture source: NorthEast United FC
NorthEast United FC will be confident heading into this game and will surely try to replicate the well-structured team performance. The shape of the team while on and off the ball is what caught the commendation of many. The centre back duo of Fox and Lambot was solid, and Ashutosh Mehta and Gurjinder Kumar provided stability. Camara and Apuia shone and stood their grounds in the mid-field, making the backline impenetrable. The Highlanders have many attacking options and will hope they start firing on all cylinders. But there are things that Nus has to fix, to get the best from his lads. Ninthoi and Machado, although were making runs on the flanks but did not create much for the strikers to capitalize on. The young Ninthoi, lost many balls and will have to work and improve upon that. Appiah and Sylla are good on the air and their headers could create havoc if assisted by good crosses. The mid-fielders will have to add to their defensive duties and be more creative in the attacking areas of the pitch. Subhasish Roy Chowdhury will have to be on his toes, as his mishandling in the previous match almost cost the team 2 points.
Kerala Blasters FC
Kerala Blasters FC did not start the campaign as the Manjappada would have hoped for, as they were defeated in the opening night of this season. Kibu Vicuna fielded his squad with a 4-2-3-1 formation against ATK Mohun Bagan. Bakary Koné and Costa Nhamoinesu formed the centre-back duo, while former LaLiga midfielder Vicente Gómez and Sergio Cidoncha played the holding roles in the mid-field. The Englishman Gary Hooper played upfront and Sahal Samad was given the role to be the creative force behind him.
Picture source: Kerala Blasters FC
Although the team dominated possession and started the game on the front foot, they had nothing to show for it. Vicuna’s headache will be to field the best eleven possible from his squad as surprisingly the likes of Nishu Kumar and Seityasen Singh started on the bench. Gomez and Cidoncha dominated the mid-field as the team passed the ball around the pitch fluently. But Kerala’s problems in the final third continue as the supply route to Gary Hooper was filled with potholes. Samad was also disappointing as he failed to create much from behind of Hooper and missed a clear scoring chance. Kibu Vicuna will be back at the drawing board to make his team convert the chances that are being created.
The Highlander Brigade and the Manjappada, the two of the finest fan bases in the country, will be having high expectations from their respective teams. In this comparatively shorter league, mistakes are often punished brutally and the teams cannot afford any slip-ups. As Vicuna is on his hunt for his first win of the season, Nus will be confident on his philosophy to play as a disciplined, impassable unit. In this highly anticipated fixture of the season, we predict a 1-0 win in favour of the Highlanders.