East Bengal FC look to build on the momentum and NorthEast United FC would be desperate to put a dent in that momentum when the two sides meet in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday.

Juan Pedro Benali & Co. resumed their campaign after the mid-season break with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Jamshedpur FC, as a late equaliser by Mohammed Ali Bemammer helped them secure a point from the contest.

NorthEast United FC are one of the many competitors for the sixth playoff spot, just a point behind Bengaluru FC (14), who have also played a game more (14) than the Highlanders (13). East Bengal FC had secured their biggest-ever ISL win when they beat NEUFC by 5-0 at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium in the earlier fixture between these sides in this league. It is likely that their current run of impressive form kicked off from then and continued impeccably to result in them winning the Kalinga Super Cup last month.

The Highlanders kicked off the season positively, but their form slightly fizzled out before getting on a good run in December. Benali has had reasonable time to work with the squad and his efforts have also been recognised by the management who handed him a contract extension till 2025. The journey of the coming nine games is going to be pretty challenging straight up, but a possible qualification could help them script a remarkable comeback after the 2022-23 season when they could win only one of the 20 league matches.

What’s at stake?

NorthEast United FC

The team will take confidence from Bemammer’s goal, which ensured that they didn’t return from Jamshedpur empty-handed. Late equalisers or winners often help teams bow out of matches on a high and carry that belief in the forthcoming games. Avenging the 5-0 drubbing to East Bengal FC in December must be one of the foremost objectives for NEUFC in this game. Nandhakumar Sekar had torn their backline apart and their defence wore a disoriented look altogether.

 Benali must take learning from that game and set up the team in a way that East Bengal FC and their impressive attacking riches are dealt with accordingly. Simultaneously, NEUFC should not curb their offensive instincts, and keep applying pressure to secure a breakthrough whenever possible. Their record on this front is pretty impressive too, having scored at least a goal in each of their last eight home matches. However, the team should look to keep things neat at the back early on, having conceded the most goals (12) by any team in the first half of matches this season. Avoiding that, they can ensure that their side doesn’t play catch-up throughout the game.

East Bengal FC

East Bengal FC have emerged as one of the most in-form teams in the ISL lately. They played an absolute all-out entertainer of a Kolkata Derby, drawing 2-2 against the Mohun Bagan Super Giant. An impressive element about the side has been their ability to produce new heroes game after game, ensuring that the squad is not over-reliant on the brilliance of an individual to bag desirable results. They are unbeaten in their last four clashes against NorthEast United FC, winning and drawing twice each.

Moreover, they have not faced a defeat in their previous six ISL games either. Carles Cuadrat boasts of a laudable record against the Highlanders anyway, with teams coached by him recording four victories over them. Cuadrat has gotten his processes right thus far, and now it’s just a matter of executing his plans over and over again until the end of the league stages at least when they get to their desirable position. A win here will help them do the league double over NEUFC for the first time in the ISL, and by the looks of it, the East Bengal FC players are raring to go for the same.

Key Players

Nestor Albiach (NorthEast United FC)

The Spaniard leads the frontline for the Highlanders and is their primary source of creating and even converting goal-scoring chances. He has netted twice and assisted once in 11 encounters, having produced 12 goal-scoring opportunities and earned 16 fouls – helping the team make chances from set-pieces. He is proactively involved in the build-up play, averaging 30 passes per game. He has taken a shot at goal in every game so far and has registered a 75% passing accuracy until now. The NEUFC forwards were not able to be sharp enough in the attacking line in the last match and it required a special effort from Bemammer to draw the scores level. Nestor must step up and take the onus upon him to address those concerns in the coming fixture.

Cleiton Silva (East Bengal FC)

The East Bengal FC forward has been on target on important occasions this season. Against all odds, he pulled off a panenka in the Kolkata Derby to present a peach of a penalty when all eyes were upon him. Cleiton Silva will again be in focus in the coming game. East Bengal FC has impressive creative midfielders and tireless wingers working to constantly put the ball inside the box and bank on Silva’s goal-scoring instinct to finish the duties. Along with six goals, he has created 17 goal-scoring opportunities and earned 12 fouls in ISL 2023-24. He has been averaging 27 passes per game, winning 18 aerial duels in total and often coming to the rescue whenever the Red & Gold Brigade requires his services.

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Played – 7

NorthEast United FC – 3

East Bengal FC – 2

Draws – 2

Trivia: Nestor Albiach has attempted 3.1 shots per game in ISL 2023-24, which is the second-highest such aggregate by any player.

Team Talk

“We had problems in scoring in only two games in the ISL so far, which was against EBFC away from home and against Mohun Bagan in Guwahati. We keep ourselves stronger defensively and have always scored, and we will be trying to do that more than the other team tomorrow,” NorthEast United FC Juan Pedro Benali said.

“We are trying to have a team that can fight for being in the higher statures of the ISL. We’ve been in two finals until now and shown against the champions of the last season, like Mohun Bagan Super Giant, Mumbai City and Odisha that we can win games against them and put them in trouble,” East Bengal FC head coach Carles Cuadrat said in the pre-match press conference.

ISL Fantasy

Mirshad Michu (3.5cr)

Ever so dependable between the posts for NEUFC

Nestor Albiach (4.5cr)

Key goal-scoring threat for the home team

Cleiton Silva (7.2cr)

Has scored six goals in ISL 2023-24 already

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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). Fans can also catch the action streaming Live for free on JioCinema, the home of Indian football. 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.