NorthEast United vs Odisha: Preview and Prediction
It has been a season to forget for NorthEast United as they remain rooted to the foot of the table but Odisha has it all to play for as they will look to seal a place in the playoffs. The Highlanders will host the Juggernauts at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Friday.
Vincenzo Alberto Annese’s side comes into this fixture on the back of a thrilling 3-3 draw with East Bengal as Parthib Sundar Gogoi, Jithin Madathil Subran and Imran Khan all got their names on the scoresheet.
On the other hand, the Kalinga Warriors overcame Hyderabad 3-1 to keep their playoff hopes alive with Isak Vanlalruatfela Nim Dorjee Tamang and Diego Mauricio finding the back of the net.
While one team has long been out of the race for knockouts, Josep Gombau’s side remains in the hunt for playoffs as they are level on points with Goa, who occupy the final berth to reach the next round. The only thing separating the two teams is the goal difference (-2) of the Bhubaneshwar-based club.
Thus, the Juggernauts will hope to take all three points when they travel to Guwahati, hoping to surpass the Gaurs in the table, who are scheduled to play Chennaiyin, a day earlier.
Talking about the current form of these two clubs, neither side has been able to pick up points consistently. While the Highlanders have remained rooted to the foot of the table since the start of the new campaign, the high-flyers Gombau’s men began the season on a promising note but have been marred by the inconsistency of late.
Before their recent win over the Nizams last week, the Kalinga Warriors last tasted a victory against the Red Golds which came earlier in January, and it was their first win since December. 3 wins in two months, is hardly the ideal form for a side hoping to reach the playoffs.
However, they will be hoping to carry forward the momentum from the win over the defending champions, with Jamshedpur up next in their final league outing. On the other hand, Annese’s men have little more than pride to salvage as they gave a good account of themselves in their previous match.
The Highlanders will finish bottom this season, but all the players will be motivated to do well and impress the Italian coach who will be looking to start fresh from the next campaign.
In a total of 17 previous league outings between these two sides, the Kalinga Warriors hold a slender advantage having won 7 matches, while the Highlanders claimed five wins whereas 5 matches finished all square. In the reverse fixture earlier this campaign, Gombau’s side claimed a 2-1 win.
Gombau ditched his tried and tested 4-3-3 formation during the win over the Nizams as he switched to a more pragmatic 4-4-2 however, he might be tempted to go back to his favoured system against the Highlanders.
Sahil Panwar picked up a red card against Goa and should be back after serving his suspension. Narender Gehlot’s absence meant that Thoiba Singh Moirangthem filled in as a central defender.
There shouldn’t be too many changes in the Juggernauts’ starting XI with the ever-present Amrinder Singh in goal. Shubham Sarangi, Thoiba, Carlos Delgado, and Panwar could form the back four.
Raynier Fernandes, Saul Crespo and Vanlalruatfela may start in the engine room, while the attacking trio of Nandha Kumar, Pedro and Mauricio are expected to keep their place.
For the Highlanders, coach Annese made just one change to his teamsheet for their previous outing, Tondonba Singh replaced Gurjinder Kumar and the former will be in line to start again.
A similar team may line up on Friday with Arindam Bhattacharya in goal, behind the likes of Alex Saji, Mashoor Shereef, Aaron Evans and Tondonba.
The midfield trio of Pragyan Gogoi, Joseba Beitia and Jithin are expected to keep their place, and so will the attacking trio of Romain Philippoteaux, Kule Mbombo, and Parthib.
Predicted Starting XIs
NorthEast United (4-3-3): Arindam Bhattacharya; Alex Saji, Mashoor Shereef, Aaron Evans, Tondonba Singh; Pragyan Gogoi, Joseba Beitia, Jithin Madathil Subran; Romain Philippoteaux, Kule Mbombo, Parthib Sundar Gogoi.
Odisha (4-3-3): Amrinder Singh; Shubham Sarangi, Thoiba, Carlos Delgado, Sahil Panwar; Raynier Fernandes, Saul Crespo, Isak Vanlalruatfela; Nandha Kumar, Pedro, Diego Mauricio
For Gombau’s side, their remaining two matches are both must-win games. It’s make or break for them now, and given the fact that there’s so much riding on this fixture, the Kalinga Warriors will certainly fancy their chances over the Highlanders.