The first 'Kolkata derby' or the 'Boro match' of the 2018-19 I-League season will be played this Sunday, December 16, between arch-rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Although it is supposed to be East Bengal's home match, it will be played at the Salt Lake Stadium, a common home ground shared by both the teams.
With its rich and eventful history, the Kolkata Derby is often remembered for more of the intense competition on and off the pitch than the quality of football. Both the teams have enjoyed a lot of success, having amassed many trophies nationally and a few internationally too. Even though both the sides have been bettered by many other league rivals during the past few years, this match still holds importance in the hearts of fans.
In the ongoing I-League, the fate of both the teams have been identical. Formidable on paper, both teams have not yet performed to their full potential. Both the teams have nine points in six matches and are languishing in the bottom half of the points table.
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On the contrary, other teams like Chennai City, Churchill Brothers and Real Kashmir, with less than half the budget of Bagan, EB, have fared better.
Salt Lake stadium, which was once regarded as a fortress for both the home teams, has now become an easy hunting ground for the visiting teams. Both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan has suffered humiliating losses in their own backyard this season.
Having said that, both the teams are trying to slowly recover with their improved performances. In their previous fixture, Mohun Bagan dominated proceedings from the word go against league front-runners Chennai City, took the lead, but were extremely unfortunate to concede late in the game due to a defensive error.
On the other hand, East Bengal played well and defeated 'the Giant Killers' Gokulam FC in front of a discontent home crowd.
The fans of both teams are hoping to see their teams become the champions. Hence this marquee clash becomes even more crucial as a victory will put the team back in the title race and a defeat will make them fall further in the league standings.
In this explainer, we take a look at the strategies that could be employed by both the coaches:
Mohun Bagan (Coach Sankarlal Chakraborty)
Coach Shankar Lal Chakraborty will be wary of the fact that despite having a full quota of quality foreign recruits and decent homegrown players, their team are yet to perform to their potential.
A more consistent Shankar Roy should start ahead of Shilton Paul in goal. Defensively Mohun Bagan has looked quite vulnerable. The backline of Abhishek Ambekar, Nigerian Eze Kingsley, Dalraj Singh and Arijit Bagui has looked far from convincing. Dalraj Singh, especially, looked extremely slow with his turning and his clearances in the box are inconsistent.
In the last game against Chennai City, he was replaced by Lalchawnkima who relatively had a far better outing. The inclusion of Yuta Kinowaki and Omar Elhussieny together in the centre of the field in the previous match has made the team's midfield more compact and robust. Kinowaki excelled in his role as a destroyer and Omar expertly linked up play and created upfront.
It remains to be seen if Sony Norde will feature or make the bench on Sunday. Bagan's wing-play, one of their strengths, will be affected in his absence.
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The poor form of Cameroonian Dipanda Dicka and Ugandan Henry Kisseka up front has heavily affected the team's performance. The conversion rate of goals from chances created is abysmal. So far, Mohun Bagan has managed to score only 7 goals in their six outings.
Chakraborty changed his team formation from a more conventional 4-4-2 to a more dynamic 4-2-3-1 against the league leaders Chennai City in the last game and did relatively well. They dominated most parts of the game, led till the 80th minute and could have won the match.
But the visiting team capitalized from probably their only defensive lapse and restored parity. The Coach may not change his team formation and may start the game with a lone striker. Aser Dipanda Dicka may sneak into the first team due to his better scoring ability. Their midfield and defence need to close the gaps and spread their wing play.
Sony Norde, if he plays, has to be given a free role so that he can exploit the weak right flank of their opponents. Azharuddin Mullick should replace the injured Pintu Mahata. The full-backs have to be extra cautious due to the opponent's latest Spanish recruit Jaime Santos Colado. The back line will remain unaltered with young Shankar Roy in goal.
East Bengal (Coach Alejandro Menendez)
East Bengal, having acquired by Quess Corp at the beginning of the season, were expected to take this year's I-League by storm. But the advent of the new collaboration into Indian football has been extremely luckless thus far.
The Spanish coach has been handed a poor crop of home-grown players due to an ill-timed transfer ban by the AIFF and injuries to key players. The team management constantly experimented with their strategies and formations for not getting the desired results.
Although the team kicked off brightly by winning two back-to-back away games against NEROCA FC and Shillong Lajong, they quickly lost ground in their next three matches losing to Aizwal FC (away), Chennai City (home) and Minerva Punjab FC (home).
Alejandro Menendez looked clueless with the team's on-field performance and could do nothing to arrest the fall. Beginning of the season the club made high profile signings in Costarican World Cupper Johnny Acosta, Mexican striker Enrique Esqueda and Spanish defender Borja Gomez, but they are yet to find the mark.
On paper, East Bengal looked an extremely formidable team but their on-field performances have bewildered their millions of fans. It is only in the last match that the team had a decent outing against Gokulam Kerala FC and trounced them in front of their discontent home crowd.
The Coach tweaked his team formation a little in the last game by fielding a more attacking 4-1-3-2 formation against his usual 4-4-2 formation. The change in theformation allowed Lalrindika Ralte (the only creative option) to play in the hole in a number 10 role, just behind the striking duo of Jobby Justin and Enrique. He excelled in his preferred position and made two exquisite assists for the team.
But with Enrique sidelined for 6 weeks due to a rib injury, the team faces an uphill task in finding a suitable replacement. Acosta's poor form saw him dropped in the last game by the Coach. He was replaced by the young Salam Ranjan Singh, who put up a decent shift.
The Coach might not change the back line which looked relatively better with Salam's inclusion against Gokulam FC.
The club has roped in two more Spanish players in Jaime Santos Colado and Antonio Dovale (Tony) in the available foreign quota of players. Jaime is essentially a young left winger and should straight away get into Coach's first team plans in the upcoming fixture against their arch-rivals. Dovale, a like-for-like replacement of Syrian Mahmoud Al Amna may miss out the Mohun Bagan match due to the delay in Visa issuance.
Lalrindika will keep his number 10 role and like the last match, must create lots in the final third. The team collectively has to double their work rate to ensure a favourable outcome. The defensive line should remain unchanged from the last game. The full-backs have to keep a tab on Sony Norde's movement. He should not be allowed to cut inside and shoot. Borja Gomez is expected to lead the defensive line with his experience and ability. An inconsistent Rakshit Dagar might keep his place in goal.Published 12 Dec 2018, 18:52 IST