EAST BENGAL v DEMPO:
This is undoubtedly the pick of this round of matches as the two most successful clubs, in the history of national football league, face off one another. East Bengal could not live up to the billing of being a title contender in this season. Most of the pundits are terming their Federation Cup triumph to be mere fluke, as they enter an all-time low with their winless run continued to thirteen matches thus far. Absence of talismanic striker Baichung Bhutia and Captain Rahin Nabi due to injury concerns have hurt them big time. There is tremendous criticism of coach Ridder’s experimentation with a three-man defense, which is leaking goals galore. Their midfield is creating a number of goal-scoring opportunities, but the Baichung-less toothless attack is unable to convert them into goals.
Dempo, on the other hand, have picked up only one point from their last three matches and subsequently lost their top of the table standing to Mahindra United. They will look to bounce back strongly after getting outplayed by title contender Mahindra in the last round. Sunil Chetri’s departure to US Major League has been a big blow to their title aspirations. Both the teams played out a dull goalless draw in the first leg of matches played in Goa, but considering the current scenario, we can expect a cracker of a contest when the two big guns clash in Kolkata in this battle of pride.
TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION: EAST BENGAL 2—2 Dempo
AIR INDIA v VIVA KERALA
With only three points separating eighth position Air India from thirteenth position in the league standings, the home side would ideally look to snatch as many points as possible from the nearest rivals – seventh placed Viva being one of them. Airmen drew their last match against Lajong and Viva produced similar result against Chirag United in round 19. Viva has a slightly upper hand going in to the match in terms of current form. The first leg clash between the two teams went in Viva’s favor but Airmen will certainly be eyeing revenge in this return leg to be played on their home soil.
TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION: AIR INDIA 0—1 VIVA KERALA
MAHINDRA v MUMBAI FC
Table topper Mahindra will be high on confidence ahead of this Mumbai derby, after dethroning Dempo from the pole position in the high profile round 19 clash. Mahindra is playing like a well-oiled machine at this moment and their winning streak is likely to continue against Mumbai FC. Muritala Ali is in the form of his life and Md. Rafi is complementing him pretty well in Mahindra’s attacking third. The duo have scored 26 goals between them in this I-League campaign; so Mumbai defenders are expected to have a tough day against this inform Mahindra combo.
TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION: MAHINDRA 3—1 MUMBAI FC
SPORTING v JCT:
The ‘Flaming Oranje’ are on a revival. They registered their second win of this season against Salgaocar in empathetic fashion. JCT on the other hand are in a steady decline. Their away form has always been a cause of worry and they will find it tough against an all-out Sporting attack. It’s high time for the JCT’s foreign recruits to fire; otherwise the Punjab boys could very well find them in the survival battle in coming weeks.
TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION: SPORTING 1—1 JCT
CHIRAG UTD v PUNE FC:
Pune did manage to win the local derby against Mumbai FC in round-19, but their performance left a huge scope for improvement. Unless goalkeeper Subrata Pal had kept them in the hunt with few amazing saves, they could have lost vital points. Chirag is the only team in the campaign to have scored more away point than home. They have not won a single match in Kolkata in the second half of the league. Their midfield, marshaled by a creative Jayanta Sen, is creating lot of opportunities; but lack of finishing from the strikers is letting them down. Edmilson-Joshimar combo upfront need to sort out this issue immediately, especially with an inform Subrata guarding the custody for the Pune boys.
TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION: CHIRAG 1—1 PUNE
MOHUN BAGAN v SALGAOCAR
Biswajit Bhattacharjee’s first assignment as the new Mohun Bagan coach is to face off the former Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa’s Salgaocar. Bencherifa will be keen to prove a point to the Bagan authorities against his controversial sacking from the Kolkata club. However, Karim needs to sort out his own problems first. Salgaocar have thoroughly been inconsistent in the campaign and the scare of relegation is looming large above their shoulders. Mohun Bagan will look to forget their shocking defeats in last two rounds and will try to bounce back under the guidance of their new coach. Barreto and Chidi has to carry lot of responsibilities on their shoulders and should have their scoring boots on against the Goan opponents.
TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION: MOHUN BAGAN 2—0 Salgaocar
CHURCHILL v LAJONG FC
Churchill made their desire clear and sent out a warning message to all the title rivals thrashing JCT by half a dozen goal margin in round 18. They are still in the chase for the title, seven points adrift of pole sitter Mahindra, with six rounds still remaining. Lajong, unbeaten in the last five matches, have just moved out of the bottom two. Stanley Rozario is known for his tactical acumen and the talented north-east boys will surely play their hearts out to get a result in their favor.
TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION: CHURCHILL 3—1 LAJONG FC