The Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 action returns with Jamshedpur FC hosting NorthEast United FC at the JRD Tata Sports Complex on January 31, 2024. Both the clubs endured middling runs in the first half of the campaign, winning twice each in their 12 matches so far. However, the Highlanders and their outings have garnered significantly more applause because they were coming into this season on the back of a disappointing performance back in 2022-23.

Under new head coach Juan Pedro Benali, the club has turned a new chapter, often delivering inspiring outings and managing to draw half of their games (6) in the league. The club rewarded Benali with a contract extension till 2024-25, with an option to lengthen it to another campaign. This allows the Spaniard more cushion and time to work on his squad, bring in players suiting his profile and put together a unit that can defeat the best of outfits on their day.

They had a fairly decent run in the recently concluded Kalinga Super Cup until a 2-1 loss in the opening round to Jamshedpur FC, their opponents for this game, hampered their progression into the knockouts. For the Red Miners, it’s an excellent opportunity to build on the nice little momentum that they have developed since Khalid Jamil replaced Scott Cooper as the head coach.

Placed 10th in the ISL points table, Jamil ensured that they finished atop their standings in the Kalinga Super Cup before bowing out eventual champions East Bengal FC by 2-0 in the semi-final.

What’s at stake?

Jamshedpur FC

Jamil is a proven winner in the Indian footballing circuit, having propelled the underdogs Aizawl FC to title success in the 2016-17 I-League season. He has had brief stints with the Highlanders between 2020-22 as well, but overall factors didn’t fall in place for them to scale such heights with him. With teams such as Mumbai FC, East Bengal FC, and Bengaluru United FC in his managerial CV, Jamil is someone who knows the inside out of Indian football and is hence well-placed to maximise the strengths of the domestic contingent of Jamshedpur FC.

Jamil might embrace a slightly different approach, strengthening the backline, bringing sharp, piercing wingers into play and demanding ruthless efficiency from the strikers. Thankfully, he has a forward of Daniel Chima Chukwu’s calibre in his ranks, who can carry out those duties well. The Red Miners are undoubtedly in for an entertaining ride in the second half of the 2023-24 season.

NorthEast United FC

There will be added responsibility on Benali’s shoulders to build upon the laudable performances they have delivered so far. Victories have been far and few in between but gritty outcomes have ensured that they are amongst the playoff spots midway into the campaign. Granted, they have played two games more than the fifth-placed Mohun Bagan Super Giant, but to be able to find a realistic shot at making it into the advanced stages of the league with a new head coach is a good feat in itself.

They finished second in Group B of the Kalinga Super Cup, winning 4-1 against ISL table toppers Kerala Blasters FC in their last encounter. However, the ISL is set to present different challenges altogether, and they need to hit the ground running straightaway as a few slip-ups will mean that they will keep falling down in the points table. Benali has devised an impressive way to extract points from matches even if his team is unable to cross the finishing line and bag the elusive victory. Now is the time to add up on that and ensure they notch timely wins to further strengthen their spot in the standings.

Key Players

Pratik Chaudhari (Jamshedpur FC)

The central defender has become a mainstay in the Jamshedpur FC defence, making 11 appearances and helping them keep four clean sheets. Chaudhari has been one of the more consistent centre-backs in the competition, having made 1.1 interceptions, 1.3 tackles, and 2.7 tackles per game.

The 34-year-old will be instrumental to Jamil’s plans for Jamshedpur FC, marshalling the backline and using his aerial prowess whilst both defending and attacking from set-pieces. The NorthEast United FC unit is coming together cohesively, scoring four goals in their last match. In that context, Chaudhari will be all the more important in terms of putting a halt to the onslaught of the Highlanders. A neat defensive performance can lay the foundation and pave the way for Jamshedpur FC to explore the optimum potential of their attacking riches moving forward.

Nestor Albiach (NorthEast United FC)

The skilful Spaniard has the potential to unlock any defence with his fine footwork, widespread vision, and an eye for a timely strike. He drops deep to build attacks, distributes the ball onto the flanks, cuts through backlines with through balls and is adept at demonstrating good ball control to interlink in close spaces.

He has scored twice and assisted once in 10 ISL appearances this season, but it is safe to say that his impact and influence in the final third movements of his team is always felt in a greater capacity. He has created a goal-scoring opportunity in every game on an average and earns 1.5 fouls per match, which helps the team attack the opposition’s goal through set-pieces. Nestor will be keen to display his creativity and ability to find the back of the net on a more consistent basis and he can start to strive for that from the coming encounter itself.

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Played – 13

Jamshedpur FC – 6

NorthEast United FC – 2

Draws – 5

Trivia: NorthEast United FC have played the most draws (6) amongst all teams so far in ISL 2023-24.

Team Talk

“I give all the credit to the boys for the Super Cup. They played very well. The foreigners, seniors and juniors have combined well recently and we have the capability to do well in the ISL too,” Jamshedpur FC head coach Khalid Jamil said in the pre-match press conference.

“We are just trying to keep the momentum that we had in the Super Cup. We are waiting for the ISL, which is the most important thing. Our loss to Jamshedpur FC in the Super Cup is the past and we only think about the future. Tomorrow will be a different game than the previous matches we have had,” NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali said.

ISL Fantasy

Daniel Chima Chukwu (5.5cr)

Has scored five goals in ISL 2023-24

Pratik Chaudhari (3.5cr)

Reliable presence in the heart of the backline

Nestor Alibach (4.7cr)

Three goal contributions this season

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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 HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam), News 18 Kerala (Malayalam – select matches) & 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.'