ANI Photo | NorthEast United FC preview: Head coach Benali’s upbeat Highlanders eye improved show 

NorthEast United FC’s recent history in the Indian Super League (ISL) has been a tale of inconsistency. The Guwahati-based team has qualified for the knockout stages in two out of their last five seasons but have among the bottom two teams in the other three. 
According to an ISL release, the Highlanders have been in good form since the end of the ISL 2022-23 season, reaching the semi-finals of the Super Cup and the Durand Cup but maintaining the performance levels has been a challenge for NorthEast United FC in recent times. 
However, their performances in the Durand Cup where they didn’t lose a single match (in regulation time) provide plenty of reasons for optimism. Under new head coach Juan Pedro Benali, they have been an aggressive and attack-minded unit and scored eleven goals in the Durand Cup. 
There is a good mix of young and experienced players in the team who are all pulling together to make them click as a unit. 
NorthEast United FC have reached the knockout stages of the ISL on just two occasions (2018-19 and 2020-21) and have come close on two occasions (2015 and 2016) but have otherwise had a pretty disappointing ride. 
Managerial changes and losing key players to other clubs have been two key reasons behind their inconsistency over the years. But a fresh management led by former Bengaluru FC CEO Mandar Tamhane, the Highlanders are out to right the wrongs of the past season and make a fresh start in 2023-24. 
The Durand Cup is an indicator that the team is in the right direction and possess the potential to challenge for the top spots.
The Guwahati-based side have revamped their squad with 18 changes from last season. Notable departures include Jordan Gil, Emil Benny, Arindam Bhattacharja, Gurjinder Kumar, Imran Khan, Provat Lakra, Alex Saji and Mashoor Shereef. 
However, the incomings have also been interesting with the Highlanders placing their faith in youth with the signings of Bekey Oram, Buanthanglun Samte, Thoi Singhm, Fredy Chawngthansanga and Shighil Nambrath to name a few. Other notable signings include Phalguni Singh, Redeem Tlang, Thoi Singh, Michel Zabaco, Nestor Albiach and Yaser Ahmed.
Romain Phillippoteaux has been retained and showed his quality in the Durand Cup with his new central role. Benali has made him the fulcrum of his team and so far it has reaped rewards. 
Youngster Parthib Gogoi scored four goals in the Durand Cup and has proven that he can be trusted to deliver the goods in attack. Goalkeeper Mirshad Michu who missed a large part of last season is back and ready to take up the position between the sticks. 
Gogoi was one of the finds of the season in the previous campaign. The youngster enjoyed a breakthrough season, registering three goals and an assist. His performances were one of the positives in an otherwise underwhelming campaign for the NorthEast United FC. 
The 20-year-old is enjoying himself under head coach Benali going by his performances in the Durand Cup. He scored four goals in as many games for the Highlanders, showcasing his goalscoring ability. If he continues to perform this way, Gogoi could better his goal contribution tally from last season.   
NorthEast United FC will hope that new signing Zabaco could bring an end to their defensive woes, which cost them points last season. With plenty of experience under his belt, the Spaniard will be expected to marshall the backline with his leadership skills.
Zabaco has already made a good impression in a short time with the Highlanders. He featured in four Durand Cup games under Benali, recording two clean sheets in four games. Zabaco also displayed his ability to contribute at the other end of the pitch, registering one goal and an assist.   
The Highlanders will start the season with two home games with their season opener against last season’s league winners Mumbai City FC. Chennaiyin FC will be the second visitors to Guwahati before Benali’s men hit the road for two successive away matches. 
NorthEast United FC will also finish the league season at home against FC Goa and will have home advantage in three out of the last five games of the season. 

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