Team Profile: Clean slate a positive or drawback for NorthEast?

After a long wait which spanned four seasons, NorthEast United FC finally came into their own in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19, making it into the semifinals of the Hero ISL for the first time since their inception. However, with quite a few crucial stakeholders of that success now having departed the club, the Highlanders will be starting from a clean slate yet again, in their bid to replicate, or even better, their performances from last season.

Here's an overview of the Highlanders' squad and their chances for success in the coming 2019-20 Hero ISL season.

TRANSFERS: INS AND OUT

In the initial few months of the summer transfer window, the club saw a lot of high-profile departures with the likes of head coach Eelco Schattorie, star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche, defensive stalwart Mato Grgic and midfield dynamo Rowllin Borges, all leaving without any replacements coming in.

Slowly though, that narrative changed as NorthEast signed a host of Indian as well as foreign stars. Milan Singh made his return to the club after five years, while Ninthoinganba Meetei, Rakesh Pradhan, Nim Dorjee Tamang, Lalengmawia and Wayne Vaz also committed to the club’s cause.

Former Croatian World Cupper Robert Jarni was named as the club’s new head coach and was followed by the signings of 21-year-old Martin Chaves, Argentine forward Maximiliano Barreiro and the iconic Ghanaian Asamoah Gyan. In defence, Dutch defender Kai Heerings has joined up and will be hoping to form a sturdy partnership with Mislav Komorski, who will be returning to the Highlanders after missing the latter part of last season due to an injury. Winger Panagiotis Triadis and holding midfielder Jose Leudo, who impressed in the Highlanders' shirt last campaign will also be returning for a second spell at Guwahati.

AT THE HELM

Jarni, a former Croatia teammate of Indian national team head coach, Igor Stimac, has been handed the club’s reins for the coming Hero ISL season. The 50-year-old has decades of experience and last coached Croatia's U20 national setup.

Replacing Schattorie will, however, be a tough act to follow as the Dutchman achieved historical heights during his time at NorthEast. Aiding Jarni will be the pedigree and experience of players like Gyan and Barreiro, although both may need time to get used to the intensity of the Hero ISL. Jarni is also known for his work with young players and the trait will be massively helpful to the development of promising youngsters in the NorthEast squad like Khawlhring Lalthathanga, Meetei and others.

STRENGTHS

While they may have lost Ogbeche, the Highlanders managed to rope in a formidable front three in Chaves, Barreiro and Gyan. While Gyan has showcased his goal-scoring prowess at the global stage, Barreiro is an experienced campaigner and has proven his stature as a goal scorer in South American leagues. Chaves, despite having very limited experience in senior football, is highly-rated back in his home country in Uruguay and can prove to be the dark horse of the team. The 21-year-old has also been impressive during the Highlanders' pre-season matches and has been among the goals. In the three, NorthEast possess a very versatile and attacking forward line.

Meanwhile, the vibrant Indian core of players like Ninthoinganga Meetei, Redeem Tlang, Khawlhring Lalthathanga and others will also be a breath of fresh air in NorthEast’s squad. These young stars will be pushing to make a mark for themselves and will only make the team stronger as the season goes on.

AREAS OF CONCERN

With a dynamic front three and some solid defensive personnel like Komorski, Heerings, Leudo and Milan, Jarni does have a very well-rounded squad on his hands. However, one concern for the Croat will be the lack of a big name acting as the link between defence and attack during transitions. Federico Gallego was the man who shouldered the responsibilities last term with magnificent returns. Despite the Uruguayan having penned a contract extension with the Highlanders, he is expected to miss the first half of the season because of a horrific injury he sustained during the semi-final of last season. As a result, Gallego is not in the squad and even if he returns to the fold midway through, whether, or if, he will attain match fitness fast enough to infuse the level of creativity he managed last term, can only be speculated. The loss of Rowllin Borges only compounds the issue.

SQUAD

GOALKEEPERS: Pawan Kumar, Soram Poreianganba Meitei, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury

DEFENDERS: Wayne Vaz, Provat Lakra, Pawan Kumar, Reagan Singh, Kai Heerings, Mislav Komorski, Shouvik Ghosh, Nim Dorjee Tamang

MIDFIELDERS: Jose David Leudo Romana, Ninthoinganga Meetei, Milan Singh, Lalrempuia Fanai, Panagiotis Triadis, Tlang Redeem, Nikhil Kadam, Alfred Lalruotsang, Khawlhring Lalthathanga, Rakesh Pradhan, Lalengmawia

FORWARDS: Asamoah Gyan, Martin Nicolas Chaves Gracia, Maximiliano Fabian Barreiro

With the Highlanders almost starting with a clean slate, can they replicate, or even better, their performances from last season? Leave your views in the comments below:

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