There are five matches in this matchday with the first game on Thursday between relegation-threatened United SC and title-chasing Bengaluru FC in Kalyani. After failing to win their last nine games, United SC are suddenly in the battle for survival and thus badly need a win against the league leaders. The purple shirts play much more cautiously under new technical director Subroto Bhattacharya and that might remain the case against a Bengaluru side that has in-form strikers in their squad. Bengaluru would be aiming to be ruthless because any-slip up would allow the other contenders to close the gap.
East Bengal are one of those teams that would be hoping for a favour from United SC but the red-and-gold brigade must keep winning as well. Armando Colaco’s side recorded a morale-boosting 2-1 win over Mohammedan Sporting on Tuesday but haven’t won back-to-back I-League fixtures for more than 12 months. Unless they find that consistency, East Bengal won’t be able to challenge for the title and in the absence of Uga Okpara, their backline would have their work cut out against Shillong Lajong’s strike pairing of Cornell Glen and Uilliams Bomfin.
Sporting Clube need to beat Mumbai FC in Goa on Saturday to revive their title challenge because after ending 2013 with four straight wins, the Flaming Oranje have picked up just one point from three matches after the break, losing the last two fixtures. Following a six-game winless run, Mumbai FC are also desperate for points to stay clear of relegation and thus they will look to make it difficult for Sporting Clube. The other match in Goa this round is a derby between the two form sides of the league – Dempo and Salgaocar.
Dempo have notched up three straight victories including a 4-0 hammering of Sporting Clube last weekend and another win could even bring them into the title race. But Salgaocar have been in even better form as four consecutive wins have pushed them up to third spot and only four points off the top. The round’s other game sees Rangdajied United entertain Mohun Bagan in a potential relegation six-pointer with the Kolkata giants under immense pressure to get a result.
Thursday: United SC vs Bengaluru FC (14:30)
Friday: East Bengal vs Shillong Lajong (17:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Saturday: Rangdajied United vs Mohun Bagan (17:00), Sporting Clube vs Mumbai FC (17:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Sunday: Dempo vs Salgaocar (17:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Game of the round
Rangdajied United vs Mohun Bagan
Back-to-back home wins over Bengaluru FC and United SC not only moved Rangdajied United out of the one relegation spot but also got a few more teams worried about their top-flight status. Despite having another difficult league campaign, Mohun Bagan have not really been involved in the battle for survival but a defeat against Rangdajied on Saturday will definitely create panic. Rangdajied currently trail Mohun Bagan by three points but victory will see them go above the Kolkata giants via the head-to-head criteria and the Shillong outfit will also have a game in hand.
Rangdajied also have the added incentive of doing the double over the Mariners as back in December they recorded their first-ever and till date the only away win in the I-League. After this fixture, only two of Rangdajied’s remaining five games are in Shillong with one of them being a local derby against Lajong so they cant afford to drop points in this game especially because of their poor away record. Besides Mohun Bagan, at least four other clubs remain in danger of relegation and a third straight win will certainly put Rangdajied in a strong position.
Mohun Bagan are yet to record an I-League win in 2014 as they have picked up just three draws from four matches after the break. Confidence is low and supporters are disgruntled after a fourth straight trophyless season. There is plenty of inexperience in the squad too while coach Karim Bencherifa has a couple of injury worries. But there are still some players who played their part in the survival last season when they were deducted 12 points. Bencherifa would be looking to bring out that same fighting spirit from this current group of players and at least avoid defeat while a first away victory since October will be a giant step towards safety.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Odafa Okolie (Mohun Bagan)
The club captain has been troubled by injuries all season with many fans hoping for his exit at the end of the campaign but their opinion might change if Odafa inspires the green-and-maroon brigade to a strong finish starting with a good performance against Rangdajied.
Indian: Victorino Fernandes (Sporting Clube)
The India international was on the bench when Dempo scored four past Sporting Clube in a devastating first half display. Victorino would be hoping to start against Mumbai and get Sporting Clube’s title challenge back on track by being at his very best.