I-League: Mohun Bagan face East Bengal in a high-voltage derby
Defending champions Mohun Bagan would be keen to extend their dominance in the I-League football competition when they take on traditional rivals East Bengal in a high-voltage Kolkata derby at the Salt Lake stadium here on Saturday.
Mohun Bagan have won both their opening home matches to shoot up to the top position in the standings, having beaten Aizawl FC 3-1 and Salgaocar FC 4-2. East Bengal are in the third place with four points from two away games, having won 3-1 against Sporting Clube de Goa 3-1 and managing a goalless draw against Mumbai FC.
The first leg match is Mohun Bagan's home match and the onus will be on them to take three points and seize early initiative in the competition.
Mohun Bagan are better placed going into the crunch match, with their formidable attacking line-up, comprising Trinidadian World Cupper Cornell Glen, Japanese Katsumi Yusa and Balwant Singh among goals.They have netted seven times in the two matches with Glen leading the charts with three strikes. Katsumi termed the contest an acid test for them.
"We have been practicing well for the last one and half months. The results have come our way in the first two outings. Come this Saturday, it'll be our acid test and we have to be on our toes till the final whistle," he said on Thursday.
Speaking about the dressing room atmosphere ahead of the match, "It's pretty cool out there. We share a jovial relation and there are no boundaries amongst the senior players and youngsters. Frankly speaking, we all get along well in the dressing room."
Their offensive combination have displayed impressive coordination and understanding among themselves and prised open the opposition defence easily, scoring more than once in the first half in both their matches. Adding more firepower to the attack, would be last I-League's hero Haitian forward Sony Norde, who has joined the team a few days earlier, following his international commitments.
Mohun Bagan beat East Bengal 1-0 in the second leg of the last season's I-League
But now Mohun Bagan will be at full strength with all four foreigners at their disposal and willing to fire in unison. They will seek confidence from that result and a positive start to the tournament this time. But coach Sanjoy Sen has to ensure that their susceptible defence doesn't concede when under pressure in the match.
While their offense are in good shape, their backline doesn't aspire that confidence, conceding thrice in two matches. Against Salgaocar, they lead 4-0 but took in two soft goals to bring pressure on themselves. New recruit experienced Brazilian defender Luciano Sabrosa scored once against Salgaocar but it will be his leadership skills at the back that would be more required.
East Bengal, though, are not far behind. They may have dropped two points away at Mumbai but their premier goalscorer, the experienced Nigerian Ranty Martins scored twice to set up the come-from-behind 3-1 win against Sporting.
They will also hope South Korean attacker Do Dong-Hyun, who sparkled in their 4-0 against Mohun Bagan in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) earlier in the season, will once again lit up the pitch with his sharp free-kicks and intelligent passes. Their goal scoring prowess largely depend on the two foreigners though home-grown players like Mohammed Rafique may spring a surprise.
They await the arrival of French defender Bernard Mendy with the aim of slotting him straight in the playing eleven to shore up their suspect defence against a formidable attack. His arrival status is still not clear but it is believed he will arrive on Saturday and play the match straightaway.
While debuting for his a new club in a derby without involving in any practice session may not be the ideal situation, Mendy's experience of playing for Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) will come in handy.
East Bengal won CFL thrashing Bagan under coach Biswajit Bhattacharya in August. But since then players disbanded to play in ISL. And it has taken some time for the former international to coordinate his squad.
Mohun Bagan have a 6-4 advantage in all I-League meetings so far after 16 matches. East Bengal have a healthy 118-87 win-loss ratio from 312 games in overall meetings.