After a fine debut season, Lalengmawia will look to add more strings to his bow

NorthEast United FC have many positives to look forward to heading into Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21 under head coach Gerard Nus. One of their youngsters that goes into the new campaign with lots of expectations is the highly rated Lalengmawia, who former NorthEast head coach Robert Jarni called ‘one of the best Indian midfielders’ last season. His development will be keenly monitored in Hero ISL 2020-21 after the youngster enjoyed a fine breakout campaign with the Highlanders and featured in 10 matches for them last season.

Lalengmawia’s displays, like his Hero of the Match performance against Kerala Blasters FC last season, showed that he has a mature head on his shoulders and earned him plaudits across the Hero ISL, including from the likes of Hero ISL 2019-20’s Golden Boot winner, Nerijus Valskis.

“He is very young, but he is very good with the ball. I really like how he controls the ball. It’s not easy to play when you have so much pressure. He is doing a very good job and he does not miss the ball a lot. This is very important for midfielders. All he needs to do now is improve more,” the Jamshedpur FC striker said during an episode of Let’s Football Live.

Primarily a central midfielder, Lalengmawia can also play on the wings or as a more attack-minded midfield option. Under head coach Robert Jarni last season, he played a more defensive role, and was charged with winning the ball for his team at the center of the park before spreading the play.

The only player from Mizoram that was a part of India's historic squad for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Lalengmawia is technically gifted and his prowess with the ball at his feet is one of his best assets, which is perhaps why even the likes of last season’s Hero of the League Hugo Boumous envisions a bright future for the youngster. “He is a very young player, but he will become one of the best in the future,”he said.

His numbers from last season indicates why the 20-year-old is so highly thought of. Despite playing just 10 games, Lalengmawia was third in the leaderboard for most passes (486) last season by a NorthEast player, putting him ahead of skipper Jose Leudo (473). Ball retention is key especially in midfield and his impressive passing accuracy of 80.45% and average of 48.6 passes per game in Hero ISL 2019-20 showed that he’s capable of holding his own in the heart of the midfield against more seasoned professionals.

That being said, it’s worth reminding ourselves that he has plenty of strings to his bow and is a versatile talent who was deployed further up the pitch for India’s youth teams and Indian Arrows. The 20-year-old midfielder made 60 tackles, 24 interceptions and 18 clearances last season but will be eager to add goals and assists in his second Hero ISL campaign as he targets furthering his development.

Lot of the credit for his development as player can be put down to his time with the U-17 national team, where he was introduced to the ‘pass and move’ technique, which he’s keen on perfecting. “In the World Cup (FIFA U-17 World Cup), the teams were playing 'pass and move' football. I liked that style very much. I try to inculcate that in my game. But to play like that, you have to think very fast. Even before you receive the ball you have to know what you are going to do next, whom to pass,” Lalengmawia said in an interview with Goal.com.

Under Gerard Nus, however, it will be interesting to see whether Lalengmawia is given the license to play further up the field. He created one chance and made four key passes in his 10 matches for the Highlanders in Hero ISL 2019-20. The addition of Khassa Camara to NorthEast’s midfield, though, should provide defensive cover; the role that was filled by Lalengmawia last season.

Camara slotting into the defensive midfield role might free up Lalengmawia to express himself further up the pitch and get involved in his team’s attacks – an aspect of his game that he’s hopes to improve on and contribute with for the Highlanders. “An assist always gives me more happiness than scoring a goal. I hope to contribute with as many as I can while playing for NorthEast United,” he said.

With Hero ISL 2020-21 now just over two weeks away, Lalengmawia will be working hard to elevate his game to next level and kick on under the tutelage of head coach Nus as NorthEast eye a second playoffs appearance in seven seasons.

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