The Kolkata Derby Review: Analysing Mohun Bagan's performance


Losing a derby against your fiercest rival is never a good thing. When you include the fact this result prolongs the Mariners’ drought in the Kolkata Derby to five matches without a win in the fixture and slumps them down to 9th in the table, the pain just escalates that much more. Mohun Bagan in recent years has certainly become the red-headed stepchild team of Kolkata in terms of success on the pitch (even United SC were able to bag the IFA shield last season). The loss did the Green and Maroon faithful no favours in terms of bragging rights or points but there were a number of positives to take home from the game.

When you break down the whole machinery that is Mohun Bagan into separate but vital cogs, here are the things that stood more than most for the Green and Maroon:

Young brigade comes to the fore

Pritam Kotal impressed all and sundry with his peformance on Sunday

When the team list came out, it showed a back four consisting two youngsters with precious experience and nearly none of playing in such a high voltage game. As Bengalis, both Pritam Kotal and Souvik Ghosh must have witnessed a number of derbies from the stands but when you’re at the middle of the park surrounded by 80,000 odd vociferous fans; its a whole new ball game.

Posted on either flanks of the backline, you can literally say that they had been thrown into the deep end of things as no real alternatives was left for Bencharifa with Eche suspended, Wahid Sali out of form and Kingshuk Debnath having to marshal the middle of the park. There however was not much for the Moroccan to worry about as both Kotal and Ghosh played superbly to keep the East Bengal attacks from either flanks at bay.

Kotal was the impressive of the two. With most East Bengal attacks coming down the left in the first half, the 20 year old had to show presence of mind and great defensive skills to stand strong against the threats of Sueoka and Lalrindika. It was Kotal again in the second half who produced a peach of a cross to find Odafa unmarked in the box, only for the Nigerian to head it straight at Abhijit Mondal from 8 yards out. Even Ram Malik, who came on a substitute, looked unfazed in the limited minutes that he was afforded in the game.

Nearly paid off

Muranda had a golden opportunity to make things a lot different for Mohun Bagan on Sunday

Muranda had a golden opportunity to make things a lot different for Mohun Bagan on Sunday

Karim Bencharifa kept his cards close to his heart coming into the game and as the whistle signalled the beginning of the game, it was clear that the Moroccan had played a trick that not many had expected. Okolie Odafa, Bagan’s main hitman who was coming back into the fray after spending nearly all of this season on the side-lines was slotted into the hole; allowing Eric Muranda to be the man to play off the shoulders of the last defender. That had caught the East Bengal team out for sure in the opening few minutes and it nearly paid dividends when he was allowed the space to turn and play in Muranda in the 6th minute only for the Kenyan to hit it straight at the keeper. The red and gold soon came to terms the tactics as Odafa was rendered little space to manoeuvre from there on. The Moroccan’s initial tactics had certainly caught Armando Colaco’s team out. Muranda’s had the chance to change the script altogether but as we know the rest is history

Defence impressive; but don’t jump on the bandwagon just now

Rowilson Rodrigues alongside Aibor thwarted the explosive East Bengal attack with competence

Looking for experience in the Bagan defence? Aibor Khongjee was the only one in the Bagan backline that would have popped out. With Rowilson just beginning to flourish in his role at the back, the lack of experience on the defensive front was glaring with two new-comers pitted in at the wingback positions. That’s why the performance from the Bagan backline to hold the formidable East Bengal attack to just one clear cut opportunity at goal for the entire game is worthy of real praise. With Bagan spending heavily up front, the defence has always been a cause for concern for the Mariners and it was a pleasant change for their fans to see some semblance of authority at the back and that too against an attack comprising of Chidi, Moga, Sueka with Khabra and Ralte to contend with as well.

One game however is not a big enough sample size for this unit to be called an effective one just yet (remember Daniell Zeleny?). There is however something to build upon.

Where the game was lost

Devadas and Debnath could never get a foothold in the middle of the park

It’s said that games are won or lost at the middle of the park and so was the case on this occasion as well. The difference in class between the centre midfield of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal was wider than the gap parted by Moses in the Red Sea. A rather immobile Odafa couple with an out-of-position Debnath and Denson Devadas were no match for the guile and movement of Ralte, Mehtab and Lobo. Although ineffective in the final third, they ruled the centre of the pitch with utmost conviction and authority. If there is one place which Bagan should be desperate to build upon, it’s the central midfield which has let them down for years none can even fathom to count.

Missed trick?

Katsumi Yusa cut a forlorn figure for much of the game

Bencharifa in his post-match press conference uttered that he had anticipated East Bengal to come out all guns blazing in the first half after hearing concerns about their fitness in the pre-match conference from their coach. That was certainly the case in the first period as East Bengal bossed possession in the first half. Bagan needed someone to control and run with the ball. That is where Katsumi Yusa lacked to make a mark in the game. Posted on the left of the midfield, Yusa featured rarely the first half. Here is where the footballing IQ of the midfield comes into question for the Bagan. The ones with the responsibility of spreading the ball around failed to recognize the matchup of Yusa against Naoba on the left and for his own part the Japanese didn’t show much enthusiasm to make himself available to Devdas & co. Only once was Yusa given the opportunity to have a go at Naoba one-on-one and quick footed Japanese took Naoba for a ride as he drove across to the goal and cut it back but not with success. That was however enough to set the cat amongst the pigeons in the East bengal defence even if that was for a brief moment. Even after impressing with his run the ball kept on coming to the right Sabeeth, who couldn’t get much change from an astute Soumik. Bagan’s distribution and awareness at the centre left much to be desired. Then again, when he was brought to the middle in the second he failed to get into the thick of things.

The golden rule and the golden boot

Odafa will again have to come up trumps if Bagan has any dream of any silverware even if the I-League looks beyond them

The golden rule of football is simple. The team with most goals wins. Even after amassing lion’s share of possession, no one is guaranteed a win until and unless they can flutter the back of the net. The biggest problem for Bagan this season in the I-League so far has been exactly that. In 9 games so far, the Mariners have been able to hit the back of the net on only 6 occasions. The absence of the man with the golden boot, Okolie Odafa has certainly not made things simpler and neither Katsumi nor Muranda has been able to take up the mantleof in his absence. They were again poor in front of goal as three clear cut chances went amiss as both Odafa and Muranda scuffed their opportunities to script a different ending. If Bagan is to make serious inroads in any competition this season, Odafa will have to again drag this team along for the ride.

Not a time to panic

Bencharifa has a lot on his hand but needs fans to be realistic with the situation at hand

This is certainly no time to panic for the Mariners. They did it last time during Bencharifa’s first tenure and the club has been set back time and again since then. This team has to be taken into context. Look back a few months and Bencharifa was in charge of a team that was discombobulated and an organization that had imploded. He was dealt a tough hand; tasked with not only salvaging the future of the club but also to bring some semblance of identity back to an organisation that was a rudderless ship. The results have been tough to come by but there is certainly an ideology building under the Moroccan.

There might not be much to boast upon right now but there certainly is a base. Expecting Bagan officials to make a good decision have nowadays become similar to expecting Justin Bieber to sing classical songs. But hey, even Bieber gives producers hit songs and there is a possibility even if it’s a little distance away that Bencharifa might be able cook up a team and a combination that becomes a hit. The silver lining may not be visible still, but they have to keep the faith that its there somewhere.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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