Former champions Mohun Bagan will start as favourites when they take on old warhorse Churchill Brothers FC Goa in their 10th I-League opener at the Barasat Stadium on Sunday.
Bagan, who were supposed to play at the Ravindra Sarovar Stadium, had to change their venue at the last moment due to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) putting a bar on hosting matches under floodlights due to environmental issues.
But coach Sanjoy Sen said playing on artificial turf won't pose a problem.
"I cannot do anything about the venue change. But I don't think it will be much of a problem. Our players have played on synthetic turf before," Sen told reporters on the eve of the match.
Sen also said he would like to put a lid on the way his team leaked goals last season.
"The way we conceded goals last season was not good. I would like to change that," the former United SC coach said.
Bagan won the I-League two seasons back under Sen and finished runners-up last term.
Their team has almost the same look with Haitian forward Sony Norde, Japanese playmaker Yusa Katsumi and Scottish marksman Darryl Duffy among the foreigners retained.
Equatoguinean footballer Eduardo Ferreira, who played for Indian Super League side FC Pune City, is the only addition.
Among the Indians, All India Football Federation player of the year Jeje Lalpekhlua is the star player along with the likes of Pronay Halder, Pritam Kotal, and Kean Lewis forming the core. Add to that Sehnaj Singh, Subhashish Bose and Anas Edathodika, the Kolkata giants are one of three firm favourites to win the title this season.
East Bengal and reigning champions Bengaluru FC are the other two tipped to clinch the crown.
Churchill, on the other hand, are coming into the tie still grappling with issues like having no foreign player onboard and a hurriedly assembled squad.
"We got the squad by 2 January and reached here on 6," first team coach Alfred Fernandez, who has AFC A license, said.
"We got very little time to prepare and are without any foreigners. We hope to get our overseas players by the third week of this month," he said.
Anthony Wolfe, one of their recruits, is yet to get an international transfer certificate.
"We are here to bag three points. When we are playing we will take the fight to the opposition," captain Keenan Almeida said.
Bagan are likely to play Katsumi just behind striker Balwant Singh or Darryl Duffy with Jeje starting from the bench owing to him arriving late and still taking a time to get going.
Newcomer Anas will partner Kingshuk Debnath in defence, while Sehnaj, who played for rivals East Bengal last season, is settling down in the middle with Souvik Chakraborty.
Norde will be missed as the star player who was part of Haiti's Copa America team last year is still to arrive. Leading the Mariners in their quest from the front is Jeje, who feels he would have to be more determined this season.
"I have to work even more hard and play for the fans who have supported me throughout my journey. Mohun Bagan will stop at nothing less than winning the I-League Trophy,"
"My personal target is to give more than my cent percent in every match that I play in the hope of winning the Hero I-League trophy again," Jeje said.
On the competition, he said: "Every match in the Hero I-League this season has the potential to decide the League and every match is important. The League this year is going to be very tough and if we have to win the League this year, as a team we have to give more than our hundred per cent in every match that we play."
Asked about the challenge from defending champions Bengaluru FC, he said: "The title challenge is not just going to be posed by Bengaluru FC, but by every team which is participating. All teams in the I-League are on the same page this year and every team has the potential to be crowned as the eventual winners.
Updated Date: Jan 08, 2017 11:03 AM