NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali expressed excitement as his team prepare to host East Bengal FC in Matchweek 14 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday.

Benali’s men currently sit eighth on the league table with 13 points in 13 matches, while East Bengal FC are just below them, at ninth, with 12 points in two fewer games played.

In their previous encounter, the Highlanders suffered a disheartening 5-0 loss against the Red and Gold Brigade at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Stadium in Kolkata. They also faced defeat to East Bengal FC in the penalty shootout during the semi-finals of the Durand Cup earlier this season.

NorthEast United FC aim to avenge these losses as they welcome the Kolkata giants to Guwahati. However, the Highlanders haven't been at their defensive best this season, conceding 19 goals in 14 matches.

The head coach believes that, apart from their two matches against East Bengal FC and Mohun Bagan SG in the first half of the season, his team did well to compensate for the goals conceded.

If we take it since we started the Durand Cup, till now, we have scored more than the goals we conceded. The only problem we have had in ISL were those two games, East Bengal FC in Kolkata and Mohun Bagan SG here. After that, we didn't concede many goals. We keep ourselves more strong defensively. We score, we always score and that's important. And, we hope tomorrow we can score more than the other team,” stated Benali in the pre-match press conference. 

When asked about marking East Bengal FC players to prevent a repeat of their last meeting, Benali assured that his team has not forgotten the loss. They will play with the motive of stopping all eleven players, not just one or two.

He shared, “No, it's a game. It's 11 v 11. They need to take care of us. We need to take care of them. You know, it's a different story. Another game against East Bengal. We know how they play. They know how we play. We know each other very well. And, we'll see them here at home tomorrow. And we hope our fans come because as we say, we forgive, but we don't forget. And that for me is clear.”

The Spaniard looks to take advantage of the home game and emphasizes that it's the fans who make all the difference.

Benali stated, “What I say all the time is that the only difference is our fans. When the fans are here, other teams suffer.”

“I think our fans are waiting for this game since we need to rank up, you know, and we hope we make them proud tomorrow. That's the most important thing. And also the players and us, we're waiting for it,” he added.

Benali believes that coaching is a profession where it often seems that everyone knows how to do it better than the one actually doing it.

Addressing it as the beauty of the game, he said, “You know, it's the only job that everybody knows more than us. Every fan, everybody knows everything about football. The only ones who don't know, the only ones who make a lot of mistakes are the coaches. But everybody knows very well who should play, who should not play, how we should play. We respect it. That's the beauty of football, you know. And this makes football great.”

Midfielder Macarton Louis Nickson accompanied Benali to the press conference. The 19-year-old took pride in the Highlanders’ unyielding approach that kept them going until the very end.

“We don’t give up until the final whistle blows. And we always listen to the coach and whatever we practice, it works on the field. We won’t give up,” he stated.

Nickson has been a consistent starter for Benali recently and has been utilized in various positions. He has so far made six appearances in the league this season.

Addressing his experience playing under Benali, he shared, “There's no pressure before the game for me. We have been practising in the sessions, so we have been preparing for each game. So if he's giving me a job, I'll be doing that. And I'm ready to play anywhere, wherever he puts me. So it's been a good season for me so far. He is trusting young players like me, not only me. There are so many other players he is trusting, so I'm happy. I'm doing good.”