Buoyed by the form it discovered in the recent outstation ventures, NorthEast United will aim at preservation when it meets struggling Kerala Blasters FC at home here at the Indira Gandhi Stadium on Sunday. Cesar Farias, the temperamental Venezuelan coach, has been able to inspire a late flourish that has hauled NEUFC out of the morass of repeated failures in the first phase of the league.
The hunger for success, which appeared at a premium in its performance at the start of the second season, has suddenly become the trademark of the side.
Farias’s insistence on “productivity, focus and combination” seems to have percolated the team psyche as the Highlanders picked themselves up from a hopeless situation and have come within the range of making it to the knock-out stage.
The turnaround happened in the last three ‘away’ matches where NEUFC picked up seven points holding Delhi Dynamos 1-1 before taming two of the toughest teams of the tournament — Atletico de Kolkata (1-0) and Chennaiyin FC (2-1) — in their dens.
Currently placed fifth with 13 points from nine matches, NEUFC needs to preserve the form against the desperation of the Blasters, who have now taken the place the former spent for the most part of the first leg — the base of the league table.
With its back against the wall, the Blasters come in as a dangerous proposition being a team that is looking to give everything away to regain success. Having eight points from two wins, as many draws and five losses, the Kerala outfit has fumbled with its shape and combination.
New coach Terry Phelan, who took charge at the beginning of the second phase, has been trying to drill the winning sprit into the last year’s runner-up but has found mixed success.
Having lost 3-2 against Atletico de Kolkata in the previous outing, a win will be top on the agenda for the visitor which is looking at a “mathematical” chance to realise the knock-out spot.
The Blasters will be looking to rectify their sputtering attack and hoping the men upfront — like Chris Dagnall, Antonio German, and Mohammed Rafi — live up to the promise in the crucial match.
An injury to Englishman Sanchez Watt will be bothering the visitors, who will be looking for a more proactive role from the likes of Joao Coimbra and Mehtab Hossain in the midfield.
On the other hand, NEUFC enhanced its attack options with the inclusion of Senegalese Victor Mendy ahead of the match.
This adds to the previous replacements like Andre Bikey of Cameroon and Argentine Carlos Lopez who have considerably strengthened NEUFC’s defence allowing Farias to reorient the team’s approach on an offensive platform.
And with Portuguese World Cupper Simao Sabrosa making regular starts alongside the consistent Spaniard Bruno Arias in the attack, the host has every reason to look for full points and continue the victory march.
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