Debutants Bengaluru FC have shown in recent weeks that their dream start at the beginning of the campaign wasn’t a fluke. Many linked their good start with the fact that they played their first five matches at home but consecutive away wins suggests that they are very much in the title mix although coach Ashley Westwood has played down such claims and stressed on overall development without looking at the league table.
They face another away test in this midweek matchday against Mohammedan Sporting in Kolkata, a venue where they have suffered their biggest defeat so far at the hands of East Bengal but on that occasion they were mainly undone by the unplayable conditions of a rain-soaked Kalyani Football Stadium. Bengaluru FC will remain top irrespective of their result in this clash as nearest rivals Sporting Clube won’t be in action in this round but maybe a fourth straight win will also see Westwood publicly admit that they are in the title race.
Title favourites East Bengal will be looking to record back-to-back wins in the I-League for the first time since February in their away clash against Salgaocar. Despite not doing well historically in Goa, East Bengal will take heart from Salgaocar’s poor form as the Goan club have lost their last three matches. But the pressure will be on the red-and-gold brigade as they have already dropped 13 points after nine matches.
Rock-bottom Churchill Brothers entertain Shillong Lajong in the first match of this round later today and the Red Machines will be desperate for maximum points after suffering their sixth defeat of the season against Bengaluru in the last round. Dempo are only five points ahead of Churchill Brothers and thus must at least avoid defeat against United SC, who will be forced to field their third-choice goalkeeper Abhijit Das due to the injuries of Sangram Mukherjee and Ishan Debnath.
The results of Rangdajied United have improved following the loan additions from IMG-Reliance but the Shillong club incredibly are yet to win at home and face the challenge of third placed Pune FC, who will be looking to bounce back after suffering their first home loss to Mumbai FC in round 13. Another club that has profited from IMG-R signings is Mumbai FC and they will be aiming for a hattrick of wins away at Mohun Bagan.
Tuesday: Churchill Brothers vs Shillong Lajong (15:30); United SC vs Dempo (17:00, LIVE on Ten Action)
Wednesday: Mohun Bagan vs Mumbai FC (13:45); Mohammedan Sporting vs Bengaluru FC (14:00); Salgaocar vs East Bengal (15:30, LIVE on Ten Action); Rangdajied United vs Pune FC (17:00)
Game of the round
Salgaocar vs East Bengal
Salgaocar’s 3-2 win over East Bengal in Kalyani back in November sent out a title warning to the rest of the league and also saw the beginning of the end of the Kolkata club’s Brazilian coach Marcos Falopa as he had arguments with the media after the game and lost the confidence of the dressing room completely.
At that stage, Salgaocar were looking like serious title contenders while East Bengal became desperate to replace Falopa. Five weeks on the Kolkata giants have found a replacement in the legendary Armando Colaco but Salgaocar have gone backwards as they haven’t won since that victory in Kalyani and are now six points off the top. That gap could increase to seven if Salgaocar are penalised for fielding two ineligible players in a couple of matches.
Derrick Pereira’s side will be desperate to avoid a fourth straight defeat but will be well aware that a win would put them back into title contention at the same time put East Bengal back in crisis because the red-and-gold-brigade have already lost a lot of ground in the title race. It will be Armando’s first game as an East Bengal coach in Goa and the priority for him will be getting the result even if they don’t perform that well just like the narrow victory over Rangdajied United where they needed a late winner from Shylo Malswamtulunga.
Both Goan coaches have some selection worries as Salgaocar now have only three foreigners while East Bengal’s Japanese Ryuji Sueoka and South Sudan international James Moga are not fully fit while skipper Mehtab Hossain is still recovering from his injury. But considering the strength in depth in their squad, which is underlined by the fact that they have had nine different goal scorers already, East Bengal can’t make any excuses and must finally look to build some momentum.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Josimar (Mohammedan Sporting)
The Brazilian has bagged seven of Mohammedan Sporting’s ten goals but has failed to score in the last three games and none of his teammates managed to find the back of the net in those matches as well. The pressure is on Josimar to get on the scoresheet against Bengaluru and end Mohammedan’s three-match winless streak.
Indian: NP Pradeep (Mumbai FC)
Pradeep might be out of the senior national team now but could make a return if he continues to get goals from midfield. The man from Kerala has scored two in as many games for Mumbai and will be looking to make it three in a row against former club Mohun Bagan, where he endured a torrid time two seasons ago.Published 10 Dec 2013, 01:01 IST