The biggest match in Indian domestic football is back as East Bengal host Mohun Bagan at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan in the I-League on Sunday. Having never won the I-League, the Red and Gold brigade were expected to run away with the title this season, after the club signed league-winning coach Khalid Jamil from Aizawl FC and backed him with some great signings like Katsumi Yusa and Mahmoud Al Amna.
Despite a bad start to the season and a recent blip that has seen the club win only one of their last four matches, Jamil's team sit in third place in the table, three points behind leaders Minerva Punjab, having played a game more. With fans and management alike demanding that they win the league at all costs, a victory in this match would be a big statement as we move into the second half of the season.
On the other hand, Mohun Bagan come into this fixture on the back of a torrid run, having won only one out of their last six matches in the league. This loss of form also saw their coach Sanjoy Sen step down as he felt there wasn't enough support from the management and fans, and the strained relationship was not conducive for him to do his job. Having lost the coach who led them to a league title and a Federation Cup win, the onus is now on Sankar Lal Chakraborty, who stepped up from his previous role as assistant coach to steady the ship.
The Mariners have also been hurt by the absence of their talisman, winger Sony Norde, who suffered a knee injury in the match against Churchill Brothers and looks set to leave the club to recover from his injury. The Haitian is a crowd favourite and also the emotional leader of the team, and his absence has played a big part in the team's loss of form.
Though the league itself has been pretty goal-elusive this season, East Bengal top the goal-scoring charts and will look to their attacking stars to continue their solid start to the season. Katsumi has scored five goals so far and will be the biggest threat to the Bagan defence with his pace and guile. Having played for the Maroon and Green outfit for the last four seasons, the Japanese winger understands the importance of this clash and would be looking to rise to the occasion to help his team win.
Al Amna has been consistent and smart with his play, as his controlled passing and ability to play his teammates in behind the defence remains a crucial facet of the East Bengal attack. Indian youngster Laldanmawia Ralte has been extremely impressive as well, using his pace and directness to great effect, and has chipped in with three goals so far.
The lack of a solid striker was affecting the team's output in the final third a little but the club would be hoping that the signing of veteran Dudu Omagbemi would help plug that hole. Dudu is no stranger to the Indian football scene and has had two previous stints with East Bengal in the past. His aerial threat and ability to hold the ball up should complement the qualities of the attacking trio of Katsumi, Al Amna and Ralte behind him.
Asier Pierrick Dipanda has been a strong presence in attack for Mohun Bagan, with the Cameroonian striker one of the joint-top-scorers in the league with five goals. However, he has not been very consistent throughout games and needs to step up and contribute more throughout games. The signing of midfielder Cameron Watson, who had previously played for Bengaluru FC in the I-League, has helped add some bite and dynamism to the midfield. Watson will be the key if Bagan are to stop East Bengal's attacking trio from running amok.
This is the oldest rivalry in Indian football and one of the most closely-contested derbies in the world. The passion and intensity on offer from the fans is unmatched and makes it a spectacle worth watching. The Salt Lake Stadium will be packed with close to 85,000 people as both sets of supporters put on a display full of colour and strong support. Emotions run high in a match like this and both teams will be looking to feed off the energy in the stadium.
Form often goes out of the rule book in derbies and both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan would be looking to give their best in a match in which all three points would mean not just bragging rights in the city, but also a strong message in the title race. Bagan won the first instalment of the derby this season thanks to a goal from Kingsley and would be hoping to get the double. Khalid Jamil would be on the lookout for revenge, with a win firmly placing his team in the hunt for the title and helping him strengthen his position after the team's recent bad run of form.
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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2018 10:51:13 IST