NorthEast United look to draw first blood against Bengaluru FC in semi-final first leg

The semi-finals of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 begins with NorthEast United FC welcoming Bengaluru FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in the first-leg of the first semi-final on Thursday. The Highlanders qualified after finishing ahead of Jamshedpur FC in fourth place while the Blues ended up topping the table courtesy of a better head-to-head record over second-placed FC Goa.

NorthEast United FC

Eelco Schattorie and Co. came into the season with no great expectations after having finished at the bottom of the table last season. The Dutchman used this to his advantage, asking his players to feed off this lack of anticipation while not losing belief in themselves. Add that to a compact and highly efficient style of play cantered around Bartholomew Ogbeche, and the Highlanders suddenly became a force to reckon with.

Their recent form, however, hasn’t been great. Since winning back-to-back matches at the end of November, NorthEast have played 10 matches and won just the two of them. Goals too have dried up in recent weeks as apart from Ogbeche, Federico Gallego and the recently-prolific Rowllin Borges, there aren’t many in the NorthEast set-up capable of hitting the back of the net on regular occasions.

Their record against the Blues this season isn’t inspirational either. In the two league matches between the clubs, the Blues came away with four points, albeit both were tense affairs. Gallego scored in each of those matches and will prove crucial once again given Bengaluru and Carles Cuadrat’s incredibly high defensive standards.

As far as the team composition is concerned, Schattorie does not have much room to experiment as he misses out on two of his first-choice centre backs to injury. The midfield and forward line on the other hand picks itself with Jose Leudo most likely partnering Borges in the middle and Redeem Tlang and Panagiotis Triadis operating on either side.

Here’s a look at NorthEast United’s season in numbers:

Bengaluru FC

For a second season running, the Blues qualified for the semi-finals after finishing at the top of the table on both occasions. Cuadrat has done an incredible job of maintaining the level from last season but would be keen to take the next step and lift the trophy now. Bengaluru’s game this season has been built around a strong defence, which, for most of the campaign, has looked rock solid.

The Blues’ recent form shouldn’t have much bearing on tomorrow’s tie as they opted to rest most of their first team stars once qualification was achieved. The performance of Miku will be a crucial to Bengaluru’s chances of getting a positive result in Guwahati as the centre-forward has time and again proved to be the lynchpin of Bengaluru’s output in the final third.

Sunil Chhetri will also be called back into the starting XI after sitting out the last few matches. His combination play with the Venezuelan was a key component of the Blues’ unbeaten run at the start of the season. Both players tend to perform well in big matches and would be confident of getting past a NorthEast United FC defence lacking the leadership skills of Mislav Komorski and Mato Grgic. Moreover, the match could also see their new recruit, Alejandro Barrera, play a part.

Here’s a look at NorthEast United’s season in numbers:

PROBABLE LINE-UPS:

NorthEast United FC: Pawan Kumar (GK), Reagan Singh, Keegan Pereira, Janeiler Rivas, Shouvik Ghosh, Jose Leudo, Rowllin Borges, Redeem Tlang, Panagiotis Triadis, Federico Gallego, Bartholomew Ogbeche.

Bengaluru FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Rahul Bheke, Albert Serran, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Harmanjot Khabra, Xisco Hernandez, Dimas Delgado, Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri (C), Miku.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • This will be NorthEast United’s first ever match in the semi-finals of the Hero ISL.
  • NorthEast United have only had a total of four goal scorers throughout the season.
  • Bengaluru remain unbeaten against NorthEast United in the Hero ISL.

FANSPEAK

Which player will make the difference on Thursday?

  • Bartholomew Ogbeche
  • Sunil Chhetri

Have your say in the comments section below.

Catch the match live on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio Tv at 7.30 PM

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