I-League 2018/19: East Bengal Season Preview, Squad, Probable XI, Prediction
The 12th edition of the I-League kicks off on October 26, which could well be the last season of the I-League as the country's Top Division as East Bengal and Mohun Bagan's jump to the cash-rich franchise-based tournament looks likely next season.
East Bengal finished an underwhelming fourth in the previous season after being on top of the table for a couple of weeks. But they could not sustain the pressure from Minerva Punjab, NEROCA FC and Mohun Bagan in the final rounds of the I-League, and finished behind them on the table.
The Red and Golds finished third in the Calcutta Football League after losing their way in the later stage of the tournament with disappointing losses to Peerless SC and Mohammedan SC, allowing arch-rivals Mohun Bagan to clinch the City League Title after eight years of domination by East Bengal.
The club spent their pre-season on an exposure tour to Malaysia and played a couple of matches against Liga Premier Clubs and a Super League club. They defeated UiTM FC 5-1, held Terengannu FC to a goalless draw, defeated Persatuan Bolasepak Polis Di-Raja Malaysia (PDRM FA) 6-2 and had a game with UKMFC washed out due to incessant rains.
The Red and Golds are still on a hunt for their maiden I-League title and after the advent of leading Business Solutions provider Quess Corporation into the football team ownership, East Bengal are a changed unit and can go all the way to the pinnacle of the league by the end of the 20 rounds of games.
East Bengal Squad
The Club is yet to announce the official squad for I-League owing up to the controversial player registration restrictions imposed on the Kolkata Giants by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Player Status Committee. The Red and Golds are delaying announcing the squad as they are positive about some leeway from the Federation regarding the ban. Players like Hira Mondal, Sujoy Dutta are training in Kolkata and have not travelled to Malaysia as the Bengali duo have not been registered in the Indian Football Association (IFA).
Youngsters Manoj Mohammed and Rudra have been called up by Alejandro Menendez to join the camp a couple of days back. The Provisional Squad in Malaysia is as follows :
Goalkeepers: Rakshit Dagar, Ubaid C.K., Mirshad Michu, Abhra Mondal.
Defenders: Samad Ali Mallick, Kamalpreet Singh, Lalram Chullova, Salam Ranjan Singh, Mehtab Singh, Johnny Acosta, Borja Perez, Koushik Sarkar, Kinshuk Debnath, Lalrozama Fanai.
Midfielders: Mahmoud Al Amna, Kassim Aidara, Surabuddin Mallick, Yami Longvah, Sanchayan Sammadar, Laldanmawia Ralte, Lalrindika Ralte, Brandon Vanlalremdika, Prakash Sarkar
Forwards: Enrique Esqueda, Bali Gagandeep, Joby Justin, Vidyasagar Singh
East Bengal Coach
After Khalid Jamil parted ways with East Bengal well before the expiry of his contract with East Bengal, technical director Subhash Bhowmick was given the role of assisting the new Head Coach, Bastob Roy, in the Calcutta Football League 2018. The veteran failed to deliver in the city league and was removed from all roles of the Club after the conclusion of the CFL 2018.
Former Celta Vigo, Racing Santander and Real Madrid Castilla Manager Alejandro Menendez was roped in by the club. The Spaniard won five trophies in his stint with Thailand based side Buriram United, including the Thai Premier League and Thai Premier Cup in a single season.
Menendez also brought along with him two assistants in Physical Trainer Carlos Nodar Paz and Video Analyst Mario Rivera Campesino. Bastob Roy, who was earlier the Head Coach of the side, has been awarded the role of Menendez's Assistant.
East Bengal Probable XI
Rakshit Dagar is likely to be between the sticks for East Bengal after his impressive CFL 2018 campaign. Johnny Acosta and Borja Gomez will be at the heart of the defence. Lalramchullova's pace and agility make him the automatic first choice at the left flank with Lalrozama Fanai being the appropriate choice at the right side. Kassim Aidara is likely to play the role of a 'sweeper' just ahead of the defence.
Lalrindika Ralte and Mahmoud Al-Amna's creativity make them the favourites to lead the midfield. Enrique Esqueda's favoured position at the left wing will provide effective impetus to Jobby Justin upfront. Laldanmawia's quick crossing abilities from the right would be crucial for East Bengal's goal-scoring chances.
Prakash Sarkar can be an alternative option for replacing Aidara at the Central Defensive Midfield, while Kamalpreet can also accompany Lalrozama Fanai at both the flanks.
Predictions for East Bengal?
If Menendez's combinations at the back and upfront prove efficient, then the Red and Golds may just go all the way and clinch their maiden I-League title. East Bengal are one of the strongest sides on paper in the upcoming I-League and consistency will be key to their success in the five-month-long league.
The goalscoring form has been one of the key issues plaguing the league campaign of East Bengal for many years. With the advent of Enrique Esqueda, the Red and Golds faithful can expect a different outcome by the end of the season, this time around.
Predicted finish: 2nd