Siliguri: Leaders East Bengal are the form team with a six-match winning streak to boast about, but it will be a different ball game altogether when they resume their rivalry with Mohun Bagan, a squad comprising an explosive attacking force, in the I-League in Siliguri on Sunday.
Ahead of the famous derby at the Kanchenjunga Stadium, East Bengal led the charts with 19 points from seven matches, while Mohun Bagan have registered 16 points from six games.
East Bengal have won all their matches since a 1-1 draw in the opening fixture of the season against Aizawl FC.
However, coach Sanjoy Sen's Mohun Bagan will be confident after their 3-2 home win over Aizawl FC and a 2-1 victory over Sri Lankan club Colombo FC in the AFC Cup.
For the Red and Gold brigade, Trinidad and Tobago striker Willis Deon Plaza has been in top form since moving from San Juan Jabloteh, scoring five goals in seven appearances so far.
To East Bengal's discomfort though, Plaza is considered doubtful ahead of the crucial derby, having sustained a minor calf injury during last Sunday's match against Chennai City FC.
Plaza's strike partner Wedson Anselme will be one of the crucial players, and could lead the attack if the Trinidadian fails to recover in time. New Australian recruit Chris Payne has been finally cleared to play in the I-League, after his visa issues were cleared.
After sitting out due to suspension against Chennai City FC, which Trevor Morgan's East Bengal won 3-0, defensive midfielder Mehtab Hossain is fit and raring to go.
As far as the Mariners are concerned, injuries to Kingshuk Debnath and Raju Gaikwad have not helped their cause, though defender Eduardo Ferreira is back from injury.
Mohun Bagan can always rely on their formidable attacking force comprising Sony Norde, Katsumi Yusa, Daryl Duffy and Jeje Lapekhlua, and their arch-rivals are well aware of the threat.
A vital cog in Sen's team, Haitian forward Norde had a good outing against Colombo FC, scoring and assisting one, and would look to step up on Sunday.
Duffy will be the man to watch out for, having netted seven goals in eight matches.
The last time the two teams met in the I-League, East Bengal emerged 2-1 winners.
Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen looked at the bigger picture as they are three points behind East Bengal with a match in hand.
"Still 30 points are up for grabs in the league after this match," he said.
"I personally look towards the game akin to any other game. Day in and day out, we plan, practice and try to execute it on the field. There's no other lookout for tomorrow's game as such."
His counterpart Trevor Morgan expressed his emotions in the same way.
"It's another game in the league and three points up for grabs. We'll push our limits to win it, as we do for any other game, nothing else."
Serving a four-match suspension, Sen had to stay away from the last season's derby.
"That's history now. It's a new season and tomorrow it's a fresh 90 minutes. Last season is in the history book and we don't want to look back into it."
There will also be a mini battle between two Haitian 'friends' when Sony Norde of Mohun Bagan square off against East Bengal's Wedson Anselme.
"Over time, foreign coaches and players have come and understood the flavour of this derby. It is very important for football in India that this is happening," Sen said.
On being asked which team is the strongest in the league, the jovial Katsumi Yusa said, "Mohun Bagan and Mohun Bagan, no one else I foresee as the strongest one."
The Japanese midfielder complements Norde with his speed and passing skills and both teams match each other on paper.
Morgan also remarked that the hype and the pressure are always being created by the spectators and media.
"It's you guys who create the buzz around a single game but not the players. We prepare for every single game with utter seriousness and approach each game with same intensity. We won't deviate from our lookout tomorrow and we will try to execute our plans on the pitch."
An eloquent Mehtab, who will play his 54th derby, said: "There has been a significant change in the Indian football ecosystem. Enough money has been pumped in. Sponsors are getting lured and youngsters are grabbing eyeballs. Nonetheless, it's been a long journey for all of us and obviously, there's a steady positive transformation."
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Feb 12, 2017 15:04:10 IST