NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali wants his team to end their Indian Super League (ISL) 2023–24 campaign on a positive note as they take on Odisha FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday.

So far, the Highlanders have amassed 23 points from their 21 matches, securing five victories and eight draws. Despite their efforts, Benali's squad fell short of qualifying for this season's playoffs. Their hopes were dashed after a 2-1 defeat to Chennaiyin FC in their recent match, ending their top-six aspirations. 

In contrast, Odisha FC, already playoff-bound, currently sits in fourth place in the league table with 39 points from 11 wins and six draws in 21 games.

In the previous ISL 2022–23 season, NorthEast United FC finished at the bottom of the points table with just five points from 20 matches. However, under Benali's leadership, the Highlanders have shown significant improvement, emerging as strong contenders for a playoff berth. Benali extended his best wishes to all teams advancing to the knockout stages while expressing pride in his team's overall performance throughout the season.

"Well, the most important thing is that we are proud we did our best. Sometimes football is unfair and that day was unfair to us. I think both teams looked to win last time and at least we could get a draw, which was going to be fantastic but this is football. All the best to Chennaiyin FC, and all the best to the (other) teams who is in the playoff. And they must know Northeast (United FC) will come (back) stronger and that's important for us," he responded during the pre-match press conference.

Benali was asked about the progress he observed in the team since taking over as head coach at the start of the season. The Spaniard also highlighted the importance of midfielder Romain Philippoteaux in helping the team gel together under a new coaching staff.

"This is my team, proud of them. This are my kids. I'm really proud of people like Romain, from the first second helping us to make this transition, to understand the club, to understand the mentality, to understand the players, was easy for us (as a coaching staff), because we had the help of Romain to integrate the group very, very well."

The 55-year-old is anticipating a tough face-off against Sergio Lobera’s team. However, he explained the significance of their forthcoming game and urged his players to give their best to bring smiles to the faces of their passionate fans, who continue to support the club through thick and thin.

"It's an important game for us, to tell you the truth, it's very important for us because we playing a great team, playing Odisha FC, and at the same time we're playing at home. Our fans, especially the ones who come to the game all the time and the people who follow us on TV and follow us on social media, we need to give them the game. We need to offer them the game."

He continued, "We had 208 sessions, tomorrow with the game it will be 209. It's a long journey, it's seven months, day by day.. Tomorrow's the cake of the season, we need to go to play and try to win."

I am happy, two years is a top moment: Romain Philippoteaux
Romain Philippoteaux accompanied his head coach during their pre-match press conference ahead of their upcoming clash against the Kalinga Warriors. The veteran midfielder has dropped down the pecking order in NorthEast United FC’s starting eleven in recent games.He last featured in the starting eleven during their game against Hyderabad FC back in March.
However, Philippoteaux still remains one of the club’s captains and senior players in the team, bringing with him a lot of experience. Philippoteaux was delighted to share his experience of his journey so far with the team.
"I am happy, two years is a top moment. It's the last game for me and I am happy. I see here too much potential," he said in the pre-match press conference.