14:30 GMT, Wednesday 14th February, Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium (Guwahati, India), Sab TV UK
The Highlanders return home after a disappointing loss away at Jamshedpur to face Delhi Dynamos. Both teams have had a forgettable season and sit three points apart with Delhi having a game in hand.
After a few encouraging performances, NorthEast United seems to have receded back into their shell and forgotten the resilience that made them draw against FC Goa away from home and down Chennaiyin FC convincingly.
Avram Grant will be eager to end the season with improved performances but his predecessor’s poor recruitment seems to be stopping him.
The Dynamos face a situation similar to their opponent in the next game. They just have not been able to recapture their fluid play and the resilience and belief in the team have suffered.
The Dynamos had qualified for the playoff in each of their last two seasons and this will be the first time after the inaugural season that they will not play in the post-season.
Last Time Out
Jamshedpur FC 1-0 NorthEast United FC (Indian Super League)
The Highlanders dominated the possession keeping 61% of the ball while having more shots on the goal than Jamshedpur creating five opportunities in total.
They got off to a great start, getting shots on the goal through Marcinho and Lalrindika Ralte. However, the lack of real edge in attack and accuracy to finish continued to haunt the team.
The first half finished with NorthEast looking the better of the two sides, but a throw-in by Trindade Goncalves in the 51st minute saw Wellington Priori receive the incoming ball on his chest.
The Brazilian midfielder then bounced it off his thigh to hit a brilliant bicycle kick, sending the ball past TP Rehenesh to the back of the net.
The visitors rallied back to get the equaliser but despite getting more shots on the goal, failed to send the ball in and in effect suffering a back-to-back 1-0 defeat.
Delhi Dynamos FC 1-1 Chennaiyin FC (Indian Super League)
The Dynamos and the Super Machans fought out a closely-contested match with both teams coming to even terms by the end of the match.
However, despite being evenly contested the match did not see too many shots on goal, with the teams sharing four shots equally amongst themselves.
The team from the capital could not get a direct shot on the goal despite creating chances in the first half.
It took them 59 minutes to score the opening goal which came from a penalty kick as Matias Mirabaje went down inside the box. This was the second consecutive penalty goal for the Dynamos with their last goal from open play coming three weeks back.
The slender lead was tough to defend as the Super Machans equalised through Mailson Alves’ header, his second of the season.
NorthEast United FC Lineup
Grant made changes to the last match’s lineup, introducing Maic Sema, Lalrindika Ralte and Robert Lalthlamuana to the starting lineup.
They might keep the same lineup to test out each player as the season draws to a close.
Delhi Dynamos FC Lineup
Miguel Angel Portugal made four changes to lineup bringing in Matias Mirabaje, Xabier Iruetaguena, Mohammad Dhot and Jayananda Moirangthem.
Considering how their season has gone, he might want to give more starts to the other players in the squad.
Key Battle: Robert Lalthlamuana (NorthEast United FC) vs Lallianzuala Chhangte (Delhi Dynamos)
It will be a battle of the two NorthEastern talents as Robert Lalthlamuana takes his place on the left back to defend against Delhi Dynamos’ Lallianzuala Chhangte.
Robert has been in fine form for the Highlanders making 27 tackles in only seven matches. His ability to disrupt opponent wingers will be key for the Guwahati based side to keep out the pacey Chhangte, while knack of being comfortable on the ball will play to the Highlanders’ favour as they try to build attacks from the back.
Against Jamshedpur, he was arguably one of the best players in the side and will have to recreate his performance against Delhi.
Chhangte has been inconsistent of the Capital side but his ability is unquestioned. He can spread out wide or cut inside and play as a secondary striker.
In addition to that, he has the ability to fire crosses into the box for target-man Kalu Uche.
Testing out the bench for the bottom teams
The season is drawing to a close with only a few matches left of each club to play. NorthEast and Delhi have four and five matches left respectively and despite their chance of making to the playoffs being virtually nil, they will try to make the most of these matches by putting on impressive performances for the club’s fans.
There is another use for the remaining matches, which if utilised properly can reap results for the next season.
Both the teams have already started giving chances to players who have been on the bench or left out completely throughout the season. This will provide the teams with the opportunity to assess the ability of the rest of the players and decide whether to retain them or release them.
While they are being judged in the training sessions, a competitive match provides a different environment and can serve as a staging ground for young talent and under-used players in the squad.
Prediction: NorthEast United FC 0-1 Delhi Dynamos FC
While both the teams will attempt to play an attacking brand of football, Delhi has a marginally better strike force than the NorthEast.
Even though the Highlander’s defence has performed better than Delhi’s, the Dynamos have been getting goals on a regular basis whereas the same has dried up for the Guwahati side.