SC East Bengal will begin their Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 campaign with the Kolkata Derby. Although the timing of the fixture was highly debated by many fans, the organizers have decided to go ahead with the game on the 27th of November. This fixture also signifies the first-ever Kolkata Derby in the ISL. The occasion is expected to bring in that extra bit of extravaganza to the highly-popular league.
While ATK Mohun Bagan made it to the league early on, it took a little more time for their rivals SC East Bengal to enter the ISL fold. After initial confusion, the Red and Gold Brigade eventually sorted out their management and ownership issues, with Shree Cement taking over the club in its entirety. After a bumpy road, SC East Bengal was finally incorporated into the ISL 2020-21 season.
It wasn't long before the new owners of the club installed Robbie Fowler as their first-ever manager for the Indian Super League. Of course, there were several other candidates, but the former Liverpool FC legend seemed to tick most, if not all the boxes. With just a few weeks left before the start of ISL 2020-21, Fowler's task looked daunting from the outset. Therefore, he had little choice but to look towards his old stomping grounds to recruit the best possible overseas talent.
Aaron Amadi-Holloway and Scott Neville, both of who played under Fowler at Brisbane Roar, made their way to the club followed by Wigan Athletic duo Anthony Pilkington and Daniel Fox. While there have been several overseas players that have joined the SC East Bengal side, the recruitment of Indian players has been impressive as well.
While the likes of Narayan Das, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, and CK Vineeth have a fair amount of ISL experience, it is the domestic striking options that Robbie Fowler will be keen on exploring.
The SC East Bengal attacking unit
As a successful striker himself, Robbie Fowler has set his side up to be a formidable attacking unit. Evidence of this can be found in their 3-1 friendly win over the Kerala Blasters in their first and only pre-season friendly.
With Anthony Pilkington expected to play the role of a playmaker or as an attacking midfielder, the only overseas striking option that Fowler has at his disposal is Aaron Amadi-Holloway. Should the latter fail to find his shooting boots in the first few matches, Fowler would be forced to turn to Indian striking options such as Jeje Lalpheklua and Balwant Singh.
The dependence on Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua
One can argue that Fowler did not have time to make the required signings to reinforce his attacking unit ahead of the ISL 2020-21 season. Of course, one option would be to play Jacques Maghoma or Anthony Pilkington as secondary strikers to Amadi-Holloway. However, this would not be a sustainable solution for the entire ISL 2020-21.
Over the course of the season, it is clear that the likes of Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua will have an important role to play. In the context of the Kolkata Derby, both players will have a point to prove since they have previously represented Mohun Bagan.
Balwant's spell with Mohun Bagan came in 2014 when The Mariners fought off competition to sign the striker. He would be part of the team that secured the 2014-15 I-League title. Jeje Lalpekhlua, on the other hand, had three spells with the club and played alongside Balwant Singh in the victorious 2014-15 season.
As former teammates and with a fair bit of understanding between themselves in attack, their experience will be a big boost for Fowler. Although ATK Mohun Bagan has gone through something of a squad revamp in recent times, both players will have an idea of what to expect from their former club.
Where do Balwant and Jeje fit in?
In his time with Brisbane Roar in the Australian top-flight, Robbie Fowler preferred to use a formation with at least two strikers, which suited his attacking philosophy. It can only be assumed that he would have used a similar approach with his East Bengal side ahead of the all-important Kolkata Derby.
Tactically, this would mean that either Balwant or Jeje would have to start the match. Meanwhile, Aaron Amadi-Holloway with Anthony Pilkington, Matti Steinmann, Scott Neville, and Daniel Fox could be deployed in the overseas spots in the playing XI. For the Derby, Jeje is the favorite to start with Balwant expected to come on as a substitute in the second half.
At the moment, it is difficult to choose a winner as this is the first Kolkata Derby in the history of the ISL. ATK Mohun Bagan is expected to have a slight edge since the club has retained several of the title-winning ATK players from the previous season, including coach Antonio Lopez Habas.
On the other hand, Robbie Fowler will take solace in the fact that the expectations on his SC East Bengal side are not extremely high. In addition to this, the Red and Gold brigade have done well in previous derbies, with 127 wins as opposed to Mohun Bagan's 111.
However, East Bengal last defeated Mohun Bagan in January 2019, winning 2-0 in the I-League. The last five matches between the two sides have seen East Bengal win 2, Mohun Bagan wins 1 with the rest drawn or canceled. Therefore, it is very difficult to call a winner.
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Needless to say, a cracker of a game is expected at the Tilak Maidan on the 27th of November.