In their first season of the Indian Super League (ISL), SC East Bengal will launch the latest chapter in the club's illustrious history with the Kolkata Derby on November 27. East Bengal's entry into the ISL has been a long saga, which finally reached its conclusion in early October, with Shree Cements taking over a controlling stake in the football club.
They wasted no time after their entry into the ISL though. Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler was appointed as the head coach. Fowler has acted fast, with six foreigners being recruited for the Red and Gold brigade so far.
Defender Scott Neville has arrived on loan from Brisbane Roar, while Danny Fox has made the move from Wigan Athletic. Former Norwich City FC star Anthony Pilkington will spearhead the East Bengal attack alongside Jacques Maghoma.
East Bengal also pulled off something of a coup with the signature of Matti Steinmann. The 25-year-old German midfielder has joined from Wellington Phoenix and is set to take the league by storm for the remainder of the season.
Fowler is also reunited with Welsh attacker Aaron Amadi-Holloway, who he worked with at Brisbane Roar.
However, East Bengal do have some concerns in other areas of their squad, with the Indian players being recruited amidst uncertainty of the club's future. Most of the Indians on the club's roster were recruited even before Fowler was appointed, and the ISL entry was confirmed.
That meant that Fowler had to filter the squad to reduce the numbers. The likes of Rino Anto were thus asked to terminate their contract with the club.
They have signed four seasoned Indian internationals though, with Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Narayan Das leaving their respective ISL clubs to join East Bengal.
In Jeje and Balwant, both India internationals, East Bengal possess strikers with a reputation, but their recent output might be a massive cause for concern.
Jeje has not played regularly since the end of the 2018-19 season, when he underwent a knee surgery, so his form is uncertain. Even though Balwant spent the last two seasons at ATK, he scored only two goals in those two years.
Pilkington, Maghoma hold the key for East Bengal
Pilkington has already created waves within the East Bengal fanbase. The Irishman scored twice in a 3-1 win over Kerala Blasters in a pre-season friendly on Tuesday.
There has been a development of a pattern for success in the ISL. Having a striker who scores in the region of 15 goals for the season is the key to title glory.
Last year's finalists - ATK and Chennaiyin FC - had Roy Krishna and Nerijus Valskis in their ranks while FC Goa have had Ferran Corominas for the last three seasons.
On the other hand, Bengaluru FC struggled last season in the absence of a recognized striker after the departure of Miku prior to the season.
Neither Pilkington nor Maghoma is a recognized striker, but Fowler will have to find a way to make them the centre-pieces around which their attack revolves.
Amadi-Holloway is a striker available to Fowler, and the Englishman knows him well from their stint together at Brisbane Roar. But even there, the Welshman was used as an attacking midfielder or a wide player.
Jeje's form is an unknown element, while Balwant doesn't have goal-scoring pedigree over the past couple of seasons. So it is important for Fowler to use Pilkington and Maghoma in a way that they can be creators as well as finishers.
Case for back three at East Bengal
A template for Fowler to follow maybe in the form of what ATK did last year, when they became champions. In a largely defensive set-up, the likes of Krishna, David Williams and Javi Hernandez were given free roles up front. That ensured Krishna was always close to goal, and was getting service from Williams and Hernandez, with Edu Garcia being a sensational impact substitute as well.
A back three, a la last season's ATK, could also suit East Bengal, with the personnel they have in their squad.
Neville and Fox are sure to be mainstays at the back, while in the likes of Rana Gharami and Gurtej Singh, East Bengal have Indian options to play as a third centre-back.
That would put the likes of Narayan Das and Lalramchullova a little further up the field, with their crossing ability possibly coming to the fore.
Whatever Fowler does end up employing tactically, it has to ensure that East Bengal put the likes of Pilkington and Maghoma at the forefront in attacking positions.
With the recruitment of a seventh foreigner still looking uncertain, the result of East Bengal's maiden ISL stint might well depend on how they use their foreigners to mask some of the deficiencies that might be present in their Indian contingent.Published 11 Nov 2020, 18:51 IST