FC Goa will try to head into the season break of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 on an unbeaten note as they gear up to face NorthEast United FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on December 29, Friday. The Gaurs have arguably been the finest team in the competition this season so far, securing seven wins and drawing twice in their nine encounters so far.

The arrival of Manolo Marquez has reignited the FC Goa fan base. They have played an exciting brand of football, which has produced goals, been solid defensively, and gotten supporters on their feet again. Up against them is a NorthEast United FC unit that started the season strongly, but has slightly faded away off late.

They are on a six-match winless streak at the moment, marginally missing out on positive results many times. The squad might need some reinforcements, but the immediate focus must be to get a desirable outcome against the visiting Gaurs.

The Highlanders were pretty close in taking three points from Bengaluru in their previous game, but had to settle for a point. FC Goa will present a different challenge though, with Marquez’s side conceding the least (4) goals in the league so far. NorthEast United FC has netted 12 times in the last 11 games, but overcoming the visitors in this clash will be a dilemma that their frontline will be eager to unravel.

What’s at stake?

FC Goa

Marquez averages 2.67 points per game against NorthEast United FC across all his stints in the ISL. The Spaniard also has a win percentage of 83.3% against the Highlanders, his highest against any opponent in the competition. The Highlanders are a different side this year, but Marquez is acquainted in dealing with the challenges that they can throw his way. The tactician has managed to get the home-away factor out of the equation for FC Goa this season. His team is also on a four-match unbeaten run in away matches at the moment, which is the longest such active streak for any team in ISL history.

However, their star midfielder Victor Rodriguez has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to an injury on his right leg, and that can have severe repercussions on their attacking output. Rodriguez had scored and assisted thrice each in nine games this season, averaging a goal contribution every 79.33 minutes he spent on the field. If there ever was a trouble that could hit FC Goa after their picture-perfect start to the campaign, it is this. Marquez’s setting up of the team in the prevalent circumstances will be kept close tabs on. 

NorthEast United FC

The Highlanders are unbeaten in their last five home matches against FC Goa, having won twice and drawn thrice. FC Goa is also the only team against whom NorthEast United FC has scored in each one of their home encounters. They have also found the back of the net in all of their last seven games in the ISL in Guwahati, as their attackers really do get going with the support of their home fans. Juan Pedro Benali’s appointment brought good news for the club, helping them recover from the lows that they had hit last season.

An impressive start to the season fuelled the faith in the tactician, and the head coach will hence be eager to end the year on a positive note. A victory against the unbeaten Gaurs will flare up their spirits and ensure that they head into the season break high on confidence. It will be a difficult task to find a solution to this defensively disciplined FC Goa unit. But, certain openings are bound to come up if the Gaurs opt for a change in structure in Rodriguez’s absence.

Key Players

Sandesh Jhingan (FC Goa)

The seasoned Indian defender has arguably been the most impactful acquisition of the season for FC Goa. His addition to their backline has brought along significant assurance and composure to the entire team. He has been critical in helping them keep six clean sheets in nine matches, playing an average of 32 passes per game. Jhingan has recorded one tackle and 5.77 clearances per game, always remaining a step ahead of the opponents.

He has also scored a goal and has been booked only once, demonstrating his aerial threat and also defensive discipline despite always putting his body on the line. NorthEast United FC have different ways of going about their offensive endeavours, often resorting to surprising long-range efforts that FC Goa will have to thwart away. Jhingan’s spearheading of the defensive line will be crucial in making the Gaurs cap off the year with another clean sheet to their name.

Nestor Albiach (NorthEast United FC)

The Spaniard has been a fresh addition to the Highlanders’ squad, and has been doing the double role of a creative outlet as well as their prime goal-scorer as well. Nestor has netted twice and assisted once so far, connecting the players at the centre of the park to the final third with impeccable ball-playing skills, vision, and an eye for a decisive pass. He can swiftly manoeuvre his way around the opposition’s box, getting into pockets of spaces and launching shots at goal.  Nestor is averaging 4.8 touches in the opposition box per game in ISL 2023-24, the second highest such aggregate by any player in the competition (Noah Sadaoui – 8.6). He has also recorded 48 touches in the opposition box this term, only Noah beating him with 60 of those in the current campaign.

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Played – 18

NorthEast United FC – 3

FC Goa – 6

Draws – 9

Trivia: Seriton Fernandes has been part of 56 wins with FC Goa in the ISL. Only Sunil Chhetri (59 with Bengaluru FC) and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (58 with Bengaluru FC) have recorded more wins with one club in the competition's history.

Team Talk

“We are playing against the strongest team at this moment in the ISL. They have great players. It’s a team that doesn’t concede goals easily. They’re very dangerous upfront, and have a lot of quality. Tactically they are very strong and they have a great coach,” NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali assessed his opponent for the coming game.

“It’s always a good feeling to go into any break with a win in the last game. It’s true that it’s difficult to keep winning, but I feel that the team is in a good moment, which is very important because if we win this game then we will have 26 points. To win in this game will be an important step for us,” FC Goa head coach Manolo Marquez said in the pre-match press conference.

ISL Fantasy

Nestor Albiach (4.7cr)

Perhaps the biggest goal-scoring threat from NEUFC

Jay Gupta (3.5cr)

Guaranteed defensive outputs from the left flank

Sandesh Jhingan (5cr)

Leader at the back for the Gaurs

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Where to Watch

Fans across the country can catch the action in English, Hindi, Bengali, and Malayalam. Fans can watch the action on linear channels like Sports18 Khel (Hindi), Sports18 1 SD & HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam) & DD Bangla (Bengali). In addition to this, as part of FSDL’s partnership with OneFootball, ISL live streams and highlights of all matches of the upcoming 2023-24 season will be delivered across more than 190 countries.