FC Goa and NorthEast United FC (NEUFC) will square off at the Fatorda Stadium on February 21, Wednesday, to kick off the proceedings for the 16th Matchweek of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 at 7:30 PM IST.

Interestingly, both teams will enter into this game on the back of defeats that they faced in front of Mohun Bagan Super Giant (MBSG) in their respective previous matches.

For the Gaurs, their impressive 12-match-long unbeaten streak drew to an end through a narrow 1-0 loss, whereas the Highlanders played part in a high-octane 4-2 defeat to the Mariners in Guwahati.

With the result, the Antonio Lopez Habas-coached side has surpassed (29) the Gaurs (28) in the standings, and the forthcoming fixture is an opportunity for them to reclaim the top spot from Odisha FC (31), whereas, NEUFC (15) is embroiled in an intense fight for playoffs qualification, with the next game giving them a chance to beat Jamshedpur FC (17) to the coveted sixth spot in the table.

The two teams played out a 1-1 draw the last time they locked horns in December, with a goal each by Jithin M.S. and Carlos Martinez ensuring a point apiece for the two teams.

What’s at stake?

FC Goa

The Gaurs have pretty laudably found the back of the net in each of their last 14 games against the NorthEast United FC. This is their second longest active streak against any team in the league, after Kerala Blasters FC (18).

Despite the recent loss, they will take heart from their track record at home, having last faced consecutive defeats at home only in February 2023 (1-2 vs Chennaiyin FC and 3-5 vs Mumbai City FC). Head coach Manolo Marquez has an admirable history against the Highlanders as well, boasting of a 71.4% win rate in front of them.

This is their joint-highest rate against any team (besides East Bengal FC), whom he has played against at least twice in the competition.

Their frontline is coming to the fore gradually, with Martinez rediscovering his goal-scoring touch whereas Noah Sadaoui is averaging 9.7 progressive carries per game this season, which is the highest amongst all players and seconded only by his teammate Jay Gupta (9.6).

The individual brilliance in their ranks could help them come out triumphant especially amidst familiar surroundings in this clash.

NorthEast United FC

Juan Pedro Benali will be disappointed with the defeat to the Mariners, which ended their four-match-long unbeaten streak.

It was a remarkable feat in its own right; with their previous best such run only coming between January-March 2021, which was a stretch of 11 encounters. They have certainly been strengthened by the arrival of striker Tomi Juric in the January transfer window.

With four goals in three appearances, he has helped the Highlanders having found the back of the net multiple times in their last two matches. Their longest such run formerly was a stretch of four games between December 17, 2021-January 6, 2022.

They are certainly strong starters to games, having scored 32% of their total goals this season in the first 15 minutes of their matches.

Their six strikes in this period are the highest amongst all teams. Defensively, they have found new stars, case in point Asheer Akhtar, whose 50 clearances in ISL 2023-24 is second best to FC Goa’s Sandesh Jhingan.

Jumping into the playoffs spots being an opportunity now, one should expect them to deliver an inspired performance away from home on Wednesday.

Key Players to Watch Out

Udanta Singh (FC Goa)

The former Bengaluru FC attacker has become an integral member of the FC Goa unit in his first season with the club. Udanta Singh has scored and assisted once in 13 appearances in the ISL 2023-24.

He has created 10 goal-scoring opportunities, and has been a lively presence in the frontline, often trying to square up key passes for forwards inside the 18-yard box.

Udanta averages a fairly decent 18 passes per game, recording 80% accuracy, symbolising the neatness that Marquez demands from his players on this front.

He has earned 10 fouls, helping the team exploit chances to net from set-piece scenarios. Udanta has avoided any bookings, and also contributed defensively with four interceptions so far. Marquez’s continued faith in him is bound to deliver outcomes at some point in this season.

Tomi Juric (NorthEast United FC)

Tomi Juric has hit the ground running immediately, with four goals in three matches – averaging a strike per 42.5 minutes in the current campaign.

He has come across as a formidable striker, taking 66.6% of his shots on target, averaging 11 passes per game at 60% accuracy. He has earned three fouls, converted a spot-kick, and also won four aerial duels.

Juric has added greater armoury to the NEUFC frontline, with his partnership with Nestor Albiach helping Benali resolve issues upfront.

For his broad frame, Juric is tremendously nimble on the feet, adding a terrific layer to his style of play and helping the Highlanders discover newer solutions moving forward all the time.

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Played – 19

FC Goa – 6

NorthEast United FC – 3

Draws – 10

Trivia: Brandon Fernandes is one away from completing 100 ISL appearances for FC Goa.

Team Talk

A lot of coaches say that after a very good number of games when the team didn’t lose, there’s always a negative sentence that the defeat is closer. Finally that day arrived and personally as a coach, I don’t know many teams or players without any defeat, so you just have to train and prepare for the next game,” FC Goa head coach Manolo Marquez mentioned in the pre-match press conference.

The defeat to Mohun Bagan Super Giant was not a big loss, but a big lecture to everyone. It’s very important to understand games, to understand how to solve problems, to control the time just after goals, and during the end of both halves,” NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali asked his team to learn from previous mistakes in the view of the coming encounter.

ISL Fantasy

Jay Gupta (3.6cr)

Has scored two goals in ISL 2023-24

Arshdeep Singh (3.5cr)

Has kept seven clean sheets this season

Nestor Albiach (4.5cr)

Central to creating and converting goal-scoring chances for 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.