NorthEast United vs Mumbai City: Preview and Prediction
The 2022-23 Indian Super League shield winners Mumbai City is set to kick start their campaign on the road as they travel to Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium on Sunday to face NorthEast United.
It was a difficult campaign last season for the Highlanders as they finished rock bottom of the league standings while the Islanders finished at the top as the best side in the league stage.
Des Buckingham’s side were defeated by Bengaluru on penalties in the semi-final bringing an end to their hopes of winning yet another league title and they will be one of the front-runners this season as well.
The Highlanders meanwhile have wiped the slate clean and roped in Spanish coach Juan Pedro Benali to lead their rebuild. They reached the semi-final of the 2023 Durand Cup by finishing second behind Goa and advanced to the knockouts as one of the second-best-placed teams.
After defeating the Indian Army, their fairytale run came to an end as the Highlanders lost 5-3 on penalties to East Bengal, thereby offering plenty of promise to the fans as they will aim to finish in the top six and reach the playoffs.
After the disappointment of last season, the Highlanders management decided to bring in a new coach and Benali has past experience in management in Asia, Africa and Europe. The management backed the coach by bringing in the likes of Yaser Hamed, Mohammed Ali Bemammer, Ibson Melo, Michel Zabaco and Nestor Albiach.
As far as the domestic signings are concerned, Redeem Tlang, Phalguni Singh, and Thoi Singh are some valuable additions.
After losing the Super Cup semi-final to eventual champions Odisha, the Highlanders made it into the semis of the Durand Cup too and since then they’ve played two friendlies against Jamshedpur before their league opener, losing 0-1 and drawing the latest fixture 2-2.
On the other hand, the Islanders have been busy as they were drawn in AFC Champions League Group D alongside Neymar’s Al Hilal. Buckingham’s men failed to reach the semifinals of the Super Cup, but they did top their group in the Durand Cup.
The club owned by the City Football Group were beaten by Mohun Bagan 3-1 in the quarter-finals. They then played out a friendly with Thailand’s top division side Prachuap, winning 3-0, before they were well beaten by Iranian club Nassaji Mazandaran 2-0 in the AFC Champions League opening fixture.
The two-time ISL shield winners made a statement of intent by signing the likes of Akash Mishra, Vinit Rai, and Jayesh Rane to add more firepower to their ranks. Yoell van Nieff, Tiri, and Nasser El Khayati are the three big-name foreign arrivals with the former Chennaiyin midfielder only registered for AFC CL matches.
These two clubs have met each other on 18 occasions previously in the ISL, and the Islanders have the upper hand in head to head winning 9 games whereas the Highlanders prevailed five times. 4 matches between these clubs ended all square.
The last time they played each other was in January when the reigning shield holders hammered four goals past their opponents with Ahmed Jahouh, Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Greg Stewart, and Vinit Rai on the scoresheet.
For Benali, there are no injury concerns and the Spaniard is likely to go with his strongest side for a tough opening fixture. Buckingham too will have the luxury of naming his strongest possible team, but it remains to be seen whether they will go with a 4-4-2 as they did in the AFC Champions League clash or the Englishman will revert back to his tried and tested 4-3-3.
Like last season, Mirshad Michu is expected to battle with Arindam Bhattacharya for a place between the sticks in the Highlanders’ ranks. Tondoba Singh could pip Hira Mondal for a place at left-back, Zabaco and Yaser are expected to make up the central defender pairing with Ashneer Akhtar at right-back.
Phalguni Singh is likely to start in the engine room with Pragyan Gogoi behind the attacking quartet of Romain Philippoteax, Parthib Gogoi, Redeem Tlang, and Nestor Albiach.
Alberto Noguera picked up an injury in pre-season and has flown back to Spain with no replacement named yet. For the moment, Yoell van Nieff is doing the job in the middle of the park but the Islanders would require a few more legs in midfield if Noguera’s injury concerns continue over the next international break as well.
Predicted Starting XIs
NorthEast United (4-2-3-1): Mirshad Michu; Tondoba Singh, Yaser Hamed, Michel Zabaco, Ashneer Akhtar; Phalguni Singh, Pragyan Gogoi; Romain Philippoteax, Parthib Gogoi, Redeem Tlang; Nestor Albiach
Mumbai City (4-3-3): Phurba Lachenpa; Rahul Bheke, Rostyn Griffiths, Mehtab Singh, Akash Mishra; Yoell van Nieff, Apuia, Greg Stewart; Lallianzuala Chhangte, Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Bipin Singh
Even though the Highlanders seem like a side on the upward curve under their new coach, the Islanders have too much firepower in their arsenal and will definitely be the favorites to pick up three points and start the new campaign on a winning note.