Past ISL record
Eight (2014), Fifth (2015)
The big picture
A team representing the region which has traditionally produced some of India's best footballing talent would have been expected to be a dominant force in the ISL. Instead, NorthEast United (NEUFC) finished last in the inaugural season, managing just three wins and scoring only 11 goals. They were lauded for having given a platform for footballers from the region, though, as almost all the Indian players signed up were from the eight states of north eastern India.
In 2015, Venezuelan Cesar Farias replaced former New Zealand head coach Ricki Herbert as manager and brought in several new players, including experienced Portuguese midfielder Simao and Argentine striker Nicolas Velez, both of whom led a much improved NEUFC campaign last season. Velez and Simao scored five and three goals respectively as the team narrowly missed out on a playoff spot.
While their away form -- which included wins in Kolkata and Chennai - was impressive, they lost three out of their seven home matches during the season. A 2-1 defeat against Delhi Dynamos at home was the costliest of the lot as it helped Delhi finish above them and clinch the last play-off spot.
Former Portugal and Benfica coach Nelo Vingada has replaced Farias as head coach for the 2016 season. While the Portuguese brings in a wealth of experience, he also has a history of inconsistency in his previous stints. He enjoyed mixed success with the Portugal U-20 and senior teams during the 90s, helping Portugal reach the semi-finals during the 1996 Olympics. After a brief stint with the Saudi Arabia national team, which saw them win the 1996 Asian Cup and qualify for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Vingada returned to Portugal to manage at club level.
Vingada's most successful period came with South Korean club FC Seoul during the 2010-11 season, as he helped them win the K-League, their first in 10 years. He has also worked alongside Carlos Queiroz, Sir Alex Ferguson's former deputy, who helped three different national teams qualify for the World Cup during his career and currently manages the Iran national team.
Didier Zokora, the most capped player for Ivory Coast, has been snapped up as the marquee player for the new season. The 35-year-old has represented top European teams, including Tottenham Hotspur and Sevilla, and is likely to shore up the midfield and make it less porous than previous seasons. A defensive midfielder who likes to occasionally venture forward, Zokora was one of FC Pune City's best performers last season, where he had forged an excellent understanding with Indian international Eugeneson Lyngdoh.
Other key players
Returning striker Nicolas Velez, who was the club's top scorer last season, will hold the key yet again, especially when it comes to poaching goals in away matches. Farias often alternated starting Velez, using him as a second-half substitute, and it would be interesting to see if Vingada chooses to play him for longer periods right from the start of the season. The acquisition of Subrata Paul from Mumbai City FC (MCFC) could turn out to be crucial as NEUFC will look to solidify the defence that conceded 23 goals, the third-most in the league stages last year. With TP Rehenesh, another goalkeeper, being one of the standout performers in ISL's history, it might give the team the option of starting with Indian goalkeepers only, which could open up an extra slot for a foreigner.
While Zokora has grabbed the headlines, another shrewd signing is Japanese midfielder Katsumi Yusa, who has been a pivotal player for Mohun Bagan for the last three years in the I-League. Defender Mailson Alves, who won the ISL with Chennayin last season, is another good signing, once again indicating the team's emphasis on shoring up the backline.
Opening match: v Kerala Blasters, Saturday, October 1, Guwahati.