NorthEast United FC have put up more than just a decent performance so far and they will be keen to boost their playoff probabilities when they host Mumbai City FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here on Friday.
Only one point separates third-placed NorthEast United and fifth-placed Mumbai City, though the hosts have a game in hand. The Highlanders are heading into the fixture with 11 points from five matches while the visitors have notched 10 points from six games.
NorthEast United have had a good start to the season under Eelco Schattorie. The combination of Bartholomew Ogbeche and Fernando Gallego in NorthEast's attack will pose a serious challenge for opposition's defenders.
Ogbeche leads the goalscoring chart alongside FC Goa's Ferran Corominas, having scored six goals from five matches. Gallego is top of the assist chart with four assists from five games.
After a 5-0 hammering at the hands of FC Goa, Mumbai have fought back into contention with back-to-back wins against Delhi Dynamos and Chennaiyin FC.
Moudou Sougou's form in front of goal is encouraging for Costa against NorthEast's defence that has looked solid at the back. Grgic and co. have conceded only six goals, which is also the number of goals scored by Mumbai City so far this season.
But Schattorie will miss the services of Gurwinder Singh in defence after he picked up an injury. However, the Dutchman is not too worried.
SQUAD: A maiden home victory will be the primary agenda for Schattorie and Co. as they get ready to face off against the Islanders. Key to NorthEast United's prospects will be the partnership of Federico Gallego and Bartholomew Ogbeche who have been in a scintillating form this season. The likes of Rowllin Borges and Redeem Tlang have also put in impressive performances for their team and will be hoping for more success against Mumbai.
Mumbai's manager Jorge Costa will be pleased with his side’s resurgence after a humiliating defeat to Goa. The Islanders have won their last two matches, including a vital 1-0 victory at the home of the defending champions Chennaiyin FC. NorthEast United, however, will be an entirely different prospect, given their recent form in the league.
MANAGERS SPEAK: While Schattorie's men have a perfect away record with three wins out of three, they are yet to pick up a win at home. An inconsistent Mumbai side will look to make full use of this as Jorge Costa looks to make a statement of intent.
"We have good players up front and we'll try to score one more goal than the opponent. Hopefully, that covers our defence. Having said that, I think there were comments that we had a shaky defence but at this moment, we have conceded the least amount of goals after Bengaluru FC. We are pretty well organised and hopefully we can continue that against Mumbai," said Schattorie.
"They (NorthEast United) had a good start to the season. For the last two-to-three days I was watching NorthEast United and they are very good.
In terms of organisation during the 90 minutes, they are really good. This means that we have a very difficult job, but tomorrow it's 11 against 11 on the field. We can also do very good things. Our wish is to go back home with the three points," expressed Costa.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: NorthEast United FC and Mumbai City FC have locked horns eight times with Mumbai winning five of those battles while NorthEast managed to win just two games.
FORM: After a nine-day gap, NorthEast will play their sixth match of the league campaign. Under head coach Eelco Schattorie, the Highlanders look a completely rejuvenated side and deservedly find themselves as one of the frontrunners. In their last encounter, they showed incredible grit and fighting spirit to come away with all three points from Delhi.
NorthEast have scored 10 goals from 17 shots on target. They have the passing accuracy of 72.49 per cent and have been able to keep the clean sheet twice.
As for Mumbai, the likes of Amrinder Singh, Lucian Goian and Subhasish Bose will have to be alert if they want to keep out the talented forwards from NorthEast. The trio of Arnold Issoko, Paulo Machado and Modou Sougou will once again be responsible for supplying the goals upfront. Sogou has hit the ground running with three goals in six games. If he can continue his fine goal-scoring form, Mumbai could very well collect their third victory in a row.
Mumbai City have scored six goals from 24 shots on target. They have the passing accuracy of 67.2 per cent and have kept three clean-sheets.
NorthEast United FC: Pawan Kumar, Reagan Singh, Gurwinder Singh, Mato Grgic, Robert Lalthlamuana, Redeem Tlang, Rowllin Borges, Jose Leudo, Federico Gallego, Juan Mascia, Bartholomew Ogbeche
Mumbai City FC: Amrinder Singh, Sauvik Chakrabarti, Joyner Lourenco, Lucian Goian, Subhasish Bose, Arnold Issoko, Sehnaj Singh, Paulo Machado, Milan Singh, Modou Sougou, Rafael Bastos