Punjab FC will travel to face NorthEast United FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati in their Indian Super League (ISL) fixture on Thursday.

Both these teams saw their playoffs aspirations take a hit in their respective previous games. NorthEast United FC drew 2-2 against Hyderabad FC, squandering a two-goal lead away from home. Similarly, Punjab FC let a 2-1 lead slip away to lose 3-2 to Mumbai City FC at home.

Currently, the Highlanders are placed eighth in the table, with 20 points from 17 games. They are one behind the sixth-placed (21) Bengaluru FC, with the Blues having played an additional match (18) as compared to NorthEast United FC (17). With a win in this match, they will go past Bengaluru FC in the standings, to boost their stake in the playoffs race.

There is plenty on the platter to play for in terms of both these teams, bringing a lot of relevance to this fixture for the overall dynamics of the points table.

What’s at stake?

NorthEast United FC

The earlier clash between these two teams had resulted in a 1-1 draw in October, 2023. The Highlanders have rediscovered their promising touch upfront, scoring eight goals in total in their previous four matches.

They have found the back of the net multiple times in each of their last four matches. In fact, they have netted in each of their previous nine encounters this season.

Only once before have they recorded a longer scoring run in the ISL, which was of 14 games between October 2015-16. After winning just once in the league in 2022-23, head coach Juan Pedro Benali has taken steady steps towards progress in the current campaign.

So far, he has won four matches in the ISL, and a victory in the coming clash will make him the joint-third most successful manager for NorthEast United FC in the competition by joining Nelo Vingada and Cesar Farias with five wins for the Highlanders.

Only Khalid Jamil (9) and Eleco Schattorie (8) have won more matches at the helm of NorthEast United FC. Will Benali equal or better their record this year?

Punjab FC

Punjab FC has won thrice in their previous five games in the ISL. Their attacking quartet of Luka Majcen, Madih Talal, and Wilmar Jordan Gil, has been central to their recent success.

Even in the previous game, Talal and Gil set up each other’s goals, but the Islanders stormed back strongly to expose the frailties in their backline in the second half. Punjab FC had kept a clean sheet in their previous win, which was a 2-0 away victory against Hyderabad FC.

If they don’t concede any goal against the Highlanders, it will be only the first time that they will keep consecutive clean sheets on the road in the ISL.

To break NorthEast United FC’s defensive solidity, they should look to outplay the home team on the flanks, given that the Highlanders have conceded seven goals from crosses in the current ISL season. The two teams have been on a promising run upfront lately, but have to ensure that they are not found wanting at the back simultaneously either.  

Key Players to Watch Out

Parthib Gogoi (NorthEast United FC)

Parthib Gogoi had started this season on a cracking note, scoring in all of their first three matches. However, his influence slightly waned as the season went on, with the Highlanders finding new heroes in Nestor Albiach and Tomi Juric in different phases of the campaign.

He rediscovered that touch in the clash against Hyderabad FC, smashing the ball from outside of the box to open the scoring at the Gachibowli Stadium. Overall, Gogoi has recorded five goal contributions in 13 appearances this season.

Gogoi has averaged 12 passes per match at 67% accuracy, winning five aerial duels, earning 12 fouls, having also created 15 goal-scoring opportunities until now. 60% of his shots have been on target, thus enhancing his possibilities of finding the back of the net.

Madih Talal (Punjab FC)

Madih Talal has been a truly inspirational figure for Punjab FC this season. The French playmaker has made things happen from dicey situations in the final third, creating goal-scoring chances out of nowhere.

Talal has attempted four dribbles per game in the current ISL season, with only Noah Sadaoui (4.1) recording a better such rate than Talal this season. He has completed 1.7 dribbles per game this season, the third highest such rate in the competition (Sahal Abdul Samad – 1.82 and Jithin MS – 1.8).

Four goals and six assists have combined taken his goal contribution tally to double digits already, and Talal’s performance has been elevating as the campaign has progressed as well. On that note, he will surely hope to pack a powerful punch in the final phase of the league season.

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Head-to-Head

Played – 1

NorthEast United FC – 0

Punjab FC – 0

Draws – 1

Trivia: Tomi Juric (NorthEast United FC) has averaged a goal every 48 minutes in ISL 2023-24, the best such rate of any player this season.

Team Talk

“The players are doing the job as well as they can. They are honest, loyal people, and they are fighting for the name of NorthEast United FC,” Head Coach Juan Pedro Benali quipped ahead of the proceedings.

“The last match was very interesting for everyone, but it belongs to the past. As coaches we are obligated to see what needs improvement and to work on this, what went well so as to maintainjh and improve more going forward,” Punjab FC Head Coach Staikos Vergetis said in the pre-match press conference.

ISL Fantasy

Madih Talal (5.6cr)

Earned nine points in Matchweek 18.

Luka Majcen (8.3cr)

Has collected total 56 fantasy points in ISL 2023-24.

Nestor Albiach (4.4cr)

Creator-in-chief of NEUFC.

If not registered already, fans can participate in the overall league or club-based leagues based on their preferences. Create private leagues, inviting friends and fellow football aficionados to compete. Prizes include a Sony PlayStation ®️ ️5 gaming console, EA Sports FC 24, signed club merchandise, and a Gift Card worth INR 20,000, which will be awarded to 100 winners at the end of the season. Sign up at: https://fantasy.indiansuperleague.com/ 

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.