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Super Saturday in the I-League: Churchill face EB, MB host Salgaocar

Dempo’s shock 1-3 defeat to ONGC on Friday has opened the door for either Churchill Brothers or East Bengal to go top of the I-League table, with the sides going head-to-head in Margao. In another big game on Saturday, former champions Mohun Bagan and Salagocar clash in Kolkata with both clubs looking to kick-start their struggling campaigns.

Chance to go top

Churchill Brothers have possibly played the most attractive brand of football, while East Bengal statistically have the best defence in the league. Therefore, this clash of contrasting styles will be very interesting.

With three current internationals of their respective national teams and Beto as the foreigners, Churchill are strong contenders for the title already, and three points against East Bengal will see them go two clear of Dempo. Unbeaten East Bengal, who are a point behind Churchill, are yet to sign their fourth foreigner, but in terms of strength in depth they have by far the best squad and will remind themselves of the win over Churchill in the Federation Cup semi-final.

However, both teams have their own problems as well. Despite their entertaining style of play, Churchill have come up short in the big games so far, as they couldn’t perform up to their full potential against East Bengal in the Federation Cup semis and lost 1-2 to Dempo in the I-League despite dominating the game.

East Bengal on the other hand are finding it difficult to find the back of the net regularly, scoring just six goals in five games, while their record in Goa has been poor in 2012 with three draws in four matches.

There will be many key individual battles in this game, but the one that could decide the match will be how Mehtab Hossain deals with Beto. The Brazilian playmaker was fouled several times in the Federation Cup clash and was not given any time and space at all, which eventually saw Churchill create very little, in turn helping East Bengal win thanks to a strike from Lalrindika Ralte in extra time.

The result of this game won’t be decisive in terms of the title race, but it could give either side a big psychological edge for the rest of the season.

Looking for a revival

The Mohun Bagan – Salgaocar contest has extra significance not only because both sides need three points to keep pace with the league leaders but also because of the coaches involved in it.

Salgaocar are now coached by David Booth, who replaced Karim Bencherifa, who will officially take charge of Mohun Bagan after this game. It’s like one big soap opera, but the players need to focus on on-field matters as anything less could see either side out of the title race already.

Mohun Bagan’s mini revival under interim coach Mridul Banerjee was halted last week as they drew goalless with ONGC. The green-and-maroon brigade depend heavily on captain and talisman Odafa Okolie, and need other players to step up if they are to mount a serious title challenge.

While Bagan have seven points from five games, Salgaocar have just five and have been affected the most by this change of coaches. The team still haven’t found their identity yet as Australian striker Sean Rooney is still getting used to Indian football and the departure of Japanese Ryuji Suoeka has left a big gap.

Salgaocar conceded a late winner against Churchill in the last game and will be hoping that Booth’s experience in India will revive their campaign. For them, there cannot be a better morale-booster than an away win at Mohun Bagan.

Mohun Bagan will be counting on their home advantage, but will be missing Tolgay Ozbey, who is still recovering from his knee injury in Australia. Salgaocar’s Philippines international Angel Guirado is also unavailable due to national team commitments.

Both teams could do with a win and thus will be under immense pressure, which could make this a classic encounter.

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