I-League: Round 8 Preview – Champions Churchill Brothers desperate for first win
There are six matches this Diwali weekend with two on Friday and four more on Saturday. Although we are into round eight of the Airtel I-League, defending champions Churchill Brothers remain winless with just three draws and three defeats from six outings.
The I-League holders are only above rock-bottom Rangdajied United, who are the only other winless side, and 10 points off the top. At this rate a title defence looks inconceivable but the Red Machines will finally be boosted by the presence of their I-League winning technical director Subhash Bhowmick, who will be in the dugout after officially returning for a second spell this week.
Despite helping the Goan club win their second I-League title, Bhowmick couldn’t complete a successful negotiation with the Churchill family and left in the summer. Another legend Sukhwinder Singh was appointed instead but the former JCT coach resigned after a poor start and now Bhowmick is back to revive Churchill Brothers’ campaign.
After three consecutive away games from which they only managed two points, Churchill Brothers are on the road again this weekend as they faced United SC in Kalyani. The Goan club will take heart from the fact that their opponents have failed to win their last five matches but their inability to score goals is a major concern for Bhowmick.
This round also gives the top three – Salgaocar, Pune FC and Bengaluru FC – the chance to pull further away from the chasing pack with Pune also looking to extend their unbeaten start. The Red Lizards could hand former Bolton and Levante attacker Mustapha Riga his I-League debut away at Sporting Clube on Saturday.
The other two teams also have tough away fixtures so their title credentials will be well tested. Bengaluru in particular have something to prove as after an impressive start in five straight home games, they were beaten on their first away test by East Bengal and now face Mumbai FC in Pune.
Salgaocar though have the toughest fixture on paper as they face East Bengal in Kalyani. The red-and-gold brigade bounced back from their AFC Cup disappointment with victory over Bengaluru and now are aiming to win back-to-back I-League matches for the first time since February.
East Bengal’s two big rivals Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting also won in round seven and have finally found some form. Mohun Bagan will be aiming for their third straight win but face a daunting task away at Dempo as skipper and talisman Odafa Okolie remains unavailable while Japanese Katsumi Yusa was unwell due to food poisoning and Kenyan Eric Muranda is doubtful.
Lajong will be hoping to end their winless run at home but face a Mohammedan Sporting side that is unbeaten in three matches and has been bolstered by the loan signings from IMG-Reliance. Mohammedan Sporting have made the headlines for breaking the deadlock with AIFF’s commercial partners but a win in Shillong will justify their stand and ease the pressure on coach Moshood Bola Abdulaziz.
Friday: East Bengal vs Salgaocar (14:30); Dempo vs Mohun Bagan (15:30; LIVE on Ten Action)
Saturday: United SC vs Churchill Brothers (14:30); Mumbai FC vs Bengaluru FC (15:00); Sporting Clube vs Pune FC (15:30; LIVE on Ten Action); Shillong Lajong vs Mohammedan Sporting (16:30)
Game of the round
East Bengal vs Salgaocar
It is possibly too early to call this a title decider but the fixture would certainly answer a few questions. A win for East Bengal would enhance their reputation of being the favourites as they are up against an in-form Salgaocar side, who currently occupy pole position.
But from Salgaocar’s point of view, this match gives them the chance to prove their title credentials. They face the club with by far the best squad in the league so three points would confirm the Goan outfit’s status as one of the serious contenders and also increase the self-belief of their squad.
There is a huge contrast in the quality of the two squads but the gap is much smaller when it comes to the starting lineups. East Bengal’s first choice eleven is still better on paper but Salgaocar have a balanced side and also possess the current top scorer of the league in Scotsman Darryl Duffy, who has netted six times in as many games.
Coach Derrick Pereira will be happy with the fact that his team won in the last round although Duffy didn’t get on the scoresheet but the reigning I-League coach of the year doesn’t have too many options unlike his counterpart Marcos Falopa, who could bring in two India internationals to replace the unavailable first-choice centre backs against Bengaluru FC.
East Bengal’s strength in depth is impressive but the Brazilian coach is yet to find the right balance in his side and still possibly doesn’t know his strongest eleven. The win against Bengaluru ended the Kolkata club’s four-game winless streak in Kalyani but more importantly saw them close the gap with the JSW-owned club.
This game provides East Bengal the chance to get closer to the points tally of another early pacesetter and also build some momentum. History also favours the 2013 AFC Cup semi-finalists as they have never lost to Salgaocar at home in the I-League era but any side coached by Derrick Pereira is difficult to beat and East Bengal will be wary of that aspect.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Ranti Martins (United SC)
Something has gone wrong with Ranti as the top scorer of the last three seasons has failed to score in his last five matches. Maybe this writer jinxed the Nigerian by associating him with the phrase ‘he scores when he wants’. Ranti will be determined to end his goal drought against Churchill Brothers and inspire United SC to their first win in six matches.
Indian: Lalrindika Ralte (East Bengal)
India’s all-time joint-top scorer in AFC Cup history is yet to get on the scoresheet in the I-League but has still had a big impact by bagging a couple of assists. Lalrindika is one of East Bengal’s most creative midfielders and would be aiming to be at his best against table toppers Salgaocar.Published 31 Oct 2013, 18:00 IST