East Bengal is set to host arch derby rivals Mohun Bagan in the I-league in Kolkata on Sunday. Both teams are tied at nine points in the league table but East Bengal are ahead on goal difference. The two teams will look for the crucial win to close in on the gap at the top of the table. Also Read - Football | All I-League Matches to be Held in Kolkata Under Strict Health And Safety Protocols: AIFF
East Bengal have a slight advantage with three wins from six matches while Mohun Bagan has only won twice this season. Also Read - Football: Former India And Mohun Bagan Player Manitombi Singh Dies
With Chennai City sitting pretty atop the table with 17 points both the Kolkata heavyweights will have a lot of catching up to do. Also Read - Hosting U-17 World Cup Can Transform Women's Football in India: FIFA Official
East Bengal started the season with two back-to-back wins before facing three defeats in a row only to revive their campaign against Gokulam Kerala ahead of the much-anticipated derby clash.
Mohun Bagan have been a picture of inconsistency this season, having thrown away leads against Gokulam Kerala, Aizawl FC and Chennai City, while also losing to Churchill Brothers 3-0, which was their worst home defeat since 2008/09 season.
The biggest ask for their coach Shankarlal Chakraborty would be to find the rhythm and he will be under pressure to win.
To make matters worse, Mohun Bagan’s I-League winning forward Sony Norde is out with hamstringing injury.
But Chakraborty has the likes of Aser Dipanda Dicka and Henry Kisekka, who are more than capable of tormenting any of India’s top defensive lines and East Bengal have been anything but solid this season.
Mohun Bagan will head to the match with the psychological advantage of not losing to their cross-town rivals in the last seven matches in all competitions.
East Bengal head coach Alejandro Menendez’s biggest headache will be to organise his defence. Since taking over from Subhash Bhowmick in September, Menendez has been unable to find a central defensive partnership which has cost his side this season.
Costa Rican World Cupper Johnny Acosta has often been caught flat-footed by the opposition and was finally dropped against Gokulam Kerala.
It’s highly unlikely that Acosta will be brought back into the side for the derby meaning East Bengal will have to rely on Borja Gomez’ La Liga experience to keep the opposition front-line in check.
Salam Ranjan Singh was tested at the heart of defence alongside Gomez against the Gokulam Kerala and the new defensive pairing passed the test with flying colours.
Lalram Chullova and Manoj Mohammad have also fared decently in their respective full-back positions and East Bengal’s key to success will be their defence.
Menendez will also look to use the services of Spanish winger Jaime Santos Colado, who has joined the side Friday, after the club were forced to release Syrian playmaker Mahmoud Al Amna and sent Mexican striker Enrique Esqueda back home for rehabilitation.
The 23-year-old former Sporting Gijon youth player mainly operates as a right-winger but is equally adept at playing on the left.
It remains to be seen how Alejandro, who was also in charge of Sporting Gijon youth team earlier, uses the new addition from his country.
“I can operate on both sides of the flanks. I’m even ready to play in the centre (as a striker). But it’s up to the coach to decide on my position,” a Lionel Messi fan, Jaime said.
Probable starting line-ups:
East Bengal: Rakshit Dagar, Lalram Chullova, Salam Ranjan Singh, Borja Gomez Perez, Manoj Mohammad, Laldanmawia Ralte, Kassim Aidara, Lalrindika Ralte, Brandon Vanlalremdika, Jobby Justin, Jaime Colado
Mohun Bagan: Sankar Roy, Arijit Bagui, Kingsley Obumneme, Lalchhawnkima, Abhishek Ambekar, Sourav Das, Yuta Kinowaki, Sk Faiaz, Omar Nabil Elhussieny, Dipanda Dicka, Henry Kisekka