NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali demanded his side to be clever in their approach when they face Mohun Bagan Super Giant in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium, Kolkata on Saturday.

Northeast United FC currently sit seventh in the league table with 16 points from 14 points. They are right in the thick of this season's simmering battle for the playoff  spots. 

They head into this game, coming off a win against East Bengal FC and are gathering positive momentum having been unbeaten in their previous four matches. Their last defeat came back in December against Mohun Bagan SG in the reverse fixture. 

They will be facing Mohun Bagan SG, who are making good progress under new head coach Antonio Habas. The Mariners stand third in the league table with 26 points from 13 matches so far this season. The Mariners have been unbeaten in their last three matches, securing two wins in the process. 

Benali spoke about the upcoming match against Mohun Bagan SG, his strategy, and how he wants his team to play smart.

"My strategy is to make it as best as we can, you know we are playing against a dinosaur, we need to be smart, if we go and try to play their game, we will be killed. We need to be smart to win our game and try to do the best that we can. I think the players are all ready, the bench is ready, and everybody who is travelling is ready. That's the most important," he said in the pre-match press conference. 

While NorthEast United FC are currently one position below the sixth spot at the moment, Benali revealed that he is not paying attention to his team’s current position and is only focusing on the next game.

"It is very important not to get blinded by results, we need to keep working. Every game is another story, every game is different. Like when they told me this morning that we are not sixth anymore, we don't care! We don't care if we are 6th, 5th, 4th, we are working. Our aim is the next game, the positions would be for the end of the season. For now the most important (thing) is the next game," he revealed.

The Spaniard also shared his thoughts on young forward Parthib Gogoi and his recent form. Gogoi has contributed three goals across 11 games so far for the Highlanders, but all his goals came in their first three matches. The youngster has struggled to find the back of the net since then.

 While addressing concern about a drop in Gogoi's form, Benali called on the club fans and media to keep him grounded. The coach emphasised the importance of not letting the hype surrounding Gogoi get to his head.

He said: "Nothing happened to Parthib, the only thing that happened to Parthib is you made his head very big. You need to help him keep his feet on the floor and keep working. He's a young talented player. I am telling everyone in the coming years he will be the main striker of the national team, but he needs to work every single day. He's doing it, he's listening, he's working. I also ask the people who surround him outside and the fans and the press to help in that, not to put him now on top of the throne."

NorthEast United FC have not kept a clean sheet in their last 12 league matches and there has been a lot of scrutiny about goalkeeper Mirshad Michu, who has been guilty of individual mistakes. However, Benali extended full support to his keeper.

"He is in a special place because I think we are very harsh on him. Sometimes he saves all and he makes one mistake and everybody says he's very bad. Very bad would be someone who doesn't save a hundred, that's very bad; he's a good keeper."

"Mirshad is doing a great job. He is working hard. Mirshad last season is not the Mirshad of this season, humble guy, a great teammate, working hard. He recognised when he made a mistake himself and that's very important and that says a lot about him. Trust him a thousand percent."

He added: "It will be Mirshad and 10 other players (responsible for the result).”