I-League: Round 7 preview – First away test for table toppers Bengaluru FC
Six fixtures will be played in round seven but only one of them will be telecasted LIVE. That match in question is the clash between AFC Cup semi-finalists East Bengal and league leaders Bengaluru FC.
Newly-formed Bengaluru FC have been near perfect so far with 13 points out of a possible 15 but they have played all five of their matches at home. So this will be the first away test for the JSW-owned club and they would be determined to show that they can perform in any venue.
East Bengal on the other hand will be looking to bounce back after consecutive defeats in the I-League and AFC Cup. The Kolkata club’s record-breaking run in the continent’s second-tier competition was ended emphatically by Kuwait SC in midweek but East Bengal don’t have any time to dwell on that disappointment as they have a fixture backlog to make up starting with this tricky home match in Kalyani later today.
The only other game on Saturday sees a rejuvenated Mohun Bagan take on Mumbai FC in Pune. The Mariners will be missing some key players including skipper and talisman Odafa Okolie but have been boosted by the 2-1 win over title contenders Salgaocar in round six. By contrast, Mumbai FC are completely out of form as they have suffered back-to-back defeats and will miss Afghanistan skipper Zohib Islam Amiri due to suspension.
There are three games on Sunday with unbeaten Pune FC back in action against winless and rock-bottom Rangdajied United while in-form Sporting Clube, who have recorded three straight wins, host Mohammedan Sporting.
The standout fixture on Sunday though is the early kickoff between United SC and Salgaocar in Kalyani. Both sides have shown glimpses of their potential this season but have suffered a few indifferent results of late as Salgaocar’s unbeaten start came to an end in midweek while Kolkata’s United SC are winless in four, having drawn their last three matches.
Shillong Lajong host Churchill Brothers in the final fixture of the round on Monday. Lajong have a 100 % record on their travels but are winless in four home games while holders Churchill Brothers are yet to win this season with just two points in five outings.
Saturday: East Bengal vs Bengaluru FC (14:30; LIVE on Ten Action); Mumbai FC vs Mohun Bagan (15:30).
Sunday: United SC vs Salgaocar (13:45); Sporting Clube vs Mohammedan Sporting (15:45); Pune FC vs Rangdajied United (19:00).
Monday: Shillong Lajong vs Churchill Brothers (16:30)
Game of the round
East Bengal vs Dempo
This is the only LIVE televised fixture of this round and the broadcasters couldn’t have picked a better one really as this promises to be an exciting clash. I-League debutants Bengaluru FC have had a dream start so far but this will be by far their biggest test and give a good indication of where they could finish at the end of the season.
Bengaluru FC have been playing an attractive brand of football under Ashley Westwood and it has been well complemented by the excellent turnouts at the Bangalore Football Stadium. But this will be a completely different challenge for I-League’s newest club, especially for their several young players.
Their opponents East Bengal made India proud by reaching the semi-finals of the AFC Cup but have received a couple of reality checks recently. First they were beaten by Dempo in the I-League as the Goan club outclassed them in midfield and then in midweek, the red-and-gold brigade were thumped by Kuwait SC in the second leg of their AFC Cup semi.
East Bengal will also be without both their regular centre-backs Uga Okpara and Arnab Mondal and recently haven’t enjoyed playing in Kalyani with no wins in their last four matches there. Brazilian coach Marcos Falopa will be under pressure to get a win as he cannot afford to lose further ground in the title race.
Bengaluru FC’s centre-backs John Johnson and Curtis Osano have settled very quickly despite this being their very first season in Indian football. By contrast, East Bengal’s two foreign strikers Edeh Chidi and James Moga still haven’t formed an understanding even though they have plenty of experience of playing in India.
The battle between Bengaluru’s two central defenders and East Bengal’s strikeforce could decide the outcome of this game.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: James Moga (East Bengal)
The South Sudan international striker has failed to live up to the East Bengal fans’ expectations so far and thus has plenty to prove in the coming weeks. However Moga has still managed to score thrice this season including a brace in the I-League against Lajong. He would be aiming to be clinical against Bengaluru also.
Indian: Nikhil Kadam (Pune FC)
The Pune FC youth product has been one of the best young players of the Airtel I-League and could even get a call-up to the senior national team if he maintains his consistency. Kadam should enjoy playing against rock-bottom Rangdajied in this round and thus will be looking to both score and set up goals.