There is no respite for the I-League clubs as they have midweek action to look forward with the competition nearing its halfway stage. There were two big derbies in the last round and this matchday too has three local derby matches. Although they are not as big as the Shillong derby or the East Bengal – Mohun Bagan rivalry, both pride and points will be at stake in all three clashes and each match will be telecasted LIVE.
The first of those takes place on Wednesday as two of India’s oldest clubs Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting go head to head. The Mariners will be looking to bounce back from Sunday’s defeat while Mohammedan Sporting will be aiming to win their first big fixture of the season especially after the notable loan additions from IMG-Reliance.
Thursday sees a derby double header as winless Churchill Brothers take on fifth placed Sporting Clube while Armando Colaco’s East Bengal face a resurgent United SC outfit. I-League holders Churchill Brothers will be desperate for their first win of the campaign and could have all three of their new foreign signings available. East Bengal would be looking to build on their derby success but will be wary of United SC’s form as the purple shirts have recorded back-to-back wins.
But the action kicks off later today with league leaders Salgaocar entertaining third placed Bengaluru FC. Salgaocar are on a four-match unbeaten run but have drawn their last two matches and thus need a win to retain pole position at the end of this round as second placed Pune FC are only a point behind with a game in hand. Bengaluru have struggled away from home with just one point from three matches and have also failed to score in three of their last four games.
Pune FC would be hoping for a slip up from Salgaocar and will be confident of taking maximum points away at Dempo, who have managed just one win at home from four games and were beaten 2-1 by United SC in the last round. The other fixture of this matchday sees 11th placed Mumbai FC host rock-bottom Rangdajied United in Pune. Mumbai are on a six-match winless run and thus it could be the perfect opportunity for bolstered Rangdajied to record the first win of their debut campaign.
Tuesday: Salgaocar vs Bengaluru FC (15:30)
Wednesday: Mumbai FC vs Rangdajied United (15:00); Dempo vs Pune FC (15:30); Mohun Bagan vs Mohammedan Sporting (17:00, LIVE on Ten Action).
Sunday: Churchill Brothers vs Sporting Clube (15:30, LIVE on Ten Action); East Bengal vs United SC (17:30, LIVE on Ten Action)
Game of the round
East Bengal vs United SC
In the eyes of many, this fixture is far more difficult for East Bengal than Sunday’s derby and looking at the quality and form of United SC, that claim makes complete sense. Despite being sponsorless, the United SC squad have shown great character under coach Eelco Schattorie to be where they are (fourth) at the table. The purple shirts have managed to achieve that even though star striker Ranti Martins has been far from his best and have a good recent I-League record against East Bengal as they are unbeaten in four in this fixture.
It would be fair to say that the first eleven of United SC is as good as any club’s in the I-League and in Liberian Eric Brown they have one of this season’s most consistent performers. They don’t have the strength in depth in the squad but since most clubs in the league have that problem, United SC haven’t been affected. Due to financial problems, they started pre-season late and thus were struggling to get results earlier in the season when matches were coming thick and fast. Maybe Schattorie has fixed that now and this match will give us a good indication of where his team could finish this season.
East Bengal remain the title favourites and the manner of their derby win was another reminder. But the red-and-gold brigade can’t always rely on individual moments of brilliance to bail them out and thus must produce a top class team performance. Skipper Mehtab Hossain is expected to miss out due to injury while South Sudan striker James Moga is away on international duty but East Bengal still have plenty of quality to get maximum points from this game.
Consistency in the I-League has been a major problem for the red-and-gold brigade in this calendar year as they haven’t won consecutive matches since February. Their new coach Armando Colaco has the know-how of winning titles and it has been very clear after the derby success that he wants to keep the players grounded and remind them that they have won nothing yet.
Due to their AFC Cup commitments earlier in the season, East Bengal still have plenty of games in hand over the other title rivals but they wouldn’t want to lose any further ground. Armando would now be looking for momentum and thus a win in this fixture is mandatory but United SC wouldn’t be any pushovers and with Ranti in their side, they will not fear anyone.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Tolgay Ozbey (Mohammedan Sporting)
After a highly successful stint at East Bengal, Tolgay turned out to be a big flop during his one-year stay at Mohun Bagan and the Australian still hasn’t lived up to the expectations at Mohammedan Sporting. Tolgay’s reputation suffered during his Mohun Bagan stay and thus he would be determined to prove a point against the Mariners.
Indian: Manandeep Singh (Rangdajied United)
The youngster is likely to get more gametime in the I-League compared to other Indian forwards as Rangdajied coach Santosh Kashyap always gives young players a chance. But Manandeep must start producing the goods to repay Kashyap’s faith in him and this potential relegation six-pointer against Mumbai FC gives him an ideal opportunity to make a mark.Published 26 Nov 2013, 00:34 IST