East Bengal FC will host NorthEast United FC at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on December 4, Monday, in their fixture in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24. Multiple coaches this season have stressed on the bridging gap between success at home and away encounters in the ISL. However, the Highlanders find themselves stuck in the middle of a precarious position at the moment.
They have not won in any of their last 20 away games (D 5, L 15), which is the longest such streak for any team in ISL history. In a season when they are putting block after block to inspire resurgence, Juan Pedro Benali and his players will be eager to set this record straight against the Red & Gold Brigade.
They come into this game after holding Bengaluru FC to a gritty 1-1 draw at home. For a team that won only once in 20 games last season, NorthEast United FC will be pleased by finding themselves in the top-six spots having played seven games in their current campaign. The new guard has come to the fore nicely, and Benali will be edging to inch closer to the top of the table with each passing game.
They will fancy facing East Bengal FC, who started the season brightly, but it’s been over two months since they last won a game in the league, i.e. against Hyderabad FC by 2-1 on September 30. Their last match was a 1-1 draw against Chennaiyin FC. Over the past few games they have missed out capitalising on good starts, which has resulted in them dropping 13 points off a possible 18 in this campaign.
What’s at stake?
East Bengal FC
Carles Cuadrat knows that he has taken over a team that has secured sensational support from their passionate fans.
They were truly encouraged with the Spaniard’s arrival after some difficult outings in the last few seasons. East Bengal FC have put up a better on-field show this season, undoubtedly, but Cuadrat is a proven ISL winner and he knows that it is of utmost importance for such performances to translate into positive results at the end of the games.
There are certain issues that need fixing in their backline, and in terms of in-game management so they manage to hold on to leads and not succumb to late hurdles. NorthEast United FC have won three points, thanks to goals after the 75th minute mark this season, and this is a fact that the home team will have to be wary of in the coming fixture.
Their frontline is setting up nicely, having found the back of the net in each of the last three games. With the likes of Naorem Mahesh Singh, Nandhakumar Sekar, and Cleiton Silva stepping up off late, some defensive consolidation could plug all holes and result in good news for the team.
NorthEast United FC
The Highlanders have a win, a draw, and a loss each in their last three ISL fixtures. To be fair, a new squad requires sufficient time to settle in, and initial hiccups are almost a given in such circumstances. Regardless of that, they have avoided defeats most often and grabbed the timely win, thus ensuring that they are on the higher end of the table.
A win against East Bengal FC gives them a chance to record their best ever start to an ISL season since 2018-19, when they had notched five victories after the same number of games. To give some context, they had made it to the semi-final in that season, and an eventual result of a similar kind could only turn out to be an encouraging outcome for them.
They hold a formidable record against East Bengal FC, having been unbeaten in five out of their last six encounters against them. Will that propel them to bring curtains down to their four-year-long drought of an away win? Monday will answer the query.
Naorem Mahesh Singh (East Bengal FC)
With two goals in six matches, Naorem Mahesh Singh has come up as a bankable attacking resource for Cuadrat. He is capable of making sharp runs from the flank and even operating right down the middle, tapping upon low crosses and deliveries coming from the wing, especially by Nandhakumar.
The former Odisha FC star has assisted both strikes by Mahesh in this campaign, and their operation in tandem will be essential for the Red & Gold Brigade to find breakthroughs in the NorthEast United FC defence. The Highlanders have conceded once on an average per game in this campaign, whereas East Bengal FC have netted once on an average in ISL 2023-24. So, one can expect a low-scoring thriller and Mahesh will be critical in converting any chances coming East Bengal’s way.
Nestor Albiach (NorthEast United FC)
The NorthEast United FC player has been an imposing presence in the front, contesting 7.2 aerial duels per match. He has also won 3.8 of them on an average in every game, which is the highest for any player who has contested over 10 of those duels in this season.
In addition to that, Nestor Albiach has scored and assisted once across his six appearances in the league. Nestor is someone who gives it his all to win the loose balls, but is an equally capable creative force with the ball at his feet. His eye for a defence-splitting pass coupled with the dexterity with which he controls the ball in tight spaces makes him a force to reckon with.
Played – 6
East Bengal FC – 1
NorthEast United FC – 3
Trivia: A win in this match will make Naorem Mahesh Singh the player with most wins with East Bengal FC in ISL history. He is currently tied with Ankit Mukherjee (8).
“We have 26 players; we have to find a solution. Everybody is ready to play and I think whoever will play instead of Mohammed Ali Bemammer will do his job well,” NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali addressed the absence of his star midfielder in this match. The 34-year-old Moroccan could have been instrumental in breaking the East Bengal FC momentum at the centre, having won the possession 62 times in the middle and defensive half so far this season.
“We have to take advantage of the next two games to try to get points at home. In one week, we have the opportunity to be here next Sunday with six more points. That makes a big difference,” East Bengal FC head coach Carles Cuadrat touched upon the importance of this match for his team.