Underdogs in all the previous editions of Indian Super League, NorthEast United FC, under head coach Gerard Nus, have taken many by surprise this year, taking on the might of some heavyweight teams with an unbeaten record in their first five matches.
NorthEast United have got off to an impressive start this season, in stark contrast to last year. They have beaten a formidable side like Mumbai City FC and latest entrant SC East Bengal while drawing against former champions Bengaluru FC, FC Goa and Kerala Balsters.
The Highlanders are placed third on the ISL table with nine points. They have recorded the same number of wins as last year when they finished ninth out of 10 teams.
"We are in the process of getting better every day as a team and also individually. I believe a lot in working and when you keep pushing, you get good results, in life or football," Nus, who formerly worked with Rafael Benitez at Liverpool FC, was quoted as saying by ISL media.
When the ISL kicked off, very few had tipped NorthEast United to challenge the heavyweights. However, going by the performances they have put up so far, the Guwahati-based side have displayed they can beat any side on their day.
` Nus, the youngest coach in this season's ISL, has successfully managed to mould his side into a tactically organised and hard-to-break-down unit. They have registered two clean sheets and are joint-highest scorers alongside table-toppers Mumbai City with eight goals each.
"We are a team that is well-organised, we know how we are going to defend and attack. We know that we need to put a lot of energy, passion, fight, show character and discipline," the Spaniard stated.
Apart from the foreign recruits whose experience has proved handy, Nus has placed his faith in young local players, who have complimented his philosophy. Lalengmawia, Ninthoingamba Meetei, Lalrempuia Fanai and Rochharzela are among the locals who have displayed maturity and shown their worth.
"We set the principles and same identity, it was clear for us from the start. After that we know, we knew what this team would be about and we knew our identity would be this.
And this helps."
But the 35-year-old head coach doesn't want to look too far ahead. All that matters for him and his team is putting up a fight, one game at a time.
"Our target is to compete every single day. That's all I'm thinking. I don't know what that means, either the playoffs or top position. For me, what matters is the next game. I hope we can keep the same level of competitiveness.