LAJONG FC v MUMBAI FC:
Lajong’s dominance in their home soil continued, as they sealed a scintillating 2-1 victory over Mahindra United in round-21. Daniel Bidemi has been a revelation for the North-East side; at the beginning of the season, he was Stanley Rozario’s trusted center back, but he has equally excelled in his new role of a striker and scored the all important winner against Mahindra. Shekokhei Tuboi is another exciting prospect for Lajong. Most importantly, they are playing as a determined unit and are utilizing the full advantage of playing at a higher altitude in their home ground at Shillong.
Mumbai FC, currently placed at second position in reverse order, is going through a rough patch of form. They are without a win in last ten matches, and the relegation fear is looming large above their heads. Noel Wilson will be the key man for the Mumbai side going into this battle. Even though Mumbai FC managed to win the first leg match, Khalid Jamil’s boys will have to drastically improve their performance, if they wish to repeat the heroics of Cooperage in Shillong.
TheHardTackle’s Prediction: Lajong 1—1 Mumbai FC
MOHUN BAGAN v MAHINDRA UNITED:
Mohun Bagan got their derailed campaign back on track with a convincing 4-0 win over Air India in round 21. Barreto and Marcos were instrumental in their victory and the Green & Maroon fans will expect a similar display from their stalwarts in the upcoming match as well. The Mariners’ new coach Biswajit Bhattacharya employed an attacking 3-5-2 formation in last match, and is expected to use a similar strategy against Mahindra as well. Ishfaq Ahmed has a groin injury, and in all possibility Snehasish Chakrabarty is going to replace him in the left wing. Shilton Pal will have to make way for a fit-again Sangram Mukherjee under the Bagan bar.
Mahindra’s title aspirations were dealt a huge blow, when they went down against Lajong FC in their last match. Daniel Bidemi’s late winner spelled doom for David Booth’s team, and they will go all-out against Bagan to regain the lost ground. Dempo has a four point cushion at this moment, but an experienced Mahindra team knows very well that a slight slip-up from the table toppers could bring them back in title contention. David Booth’s decision to go in with a three striker formation proved to be fatal against Lajong, and therefore we may see a more conservative 4-4-2 formation from the ‘Jeep men’ in this match. The Bagan defense with Deepak Mondal at the helm will have to be at their very best, to defuse Mahindra’s Muritala Ali-Md. Rafi bomb upfront.
TheHardTackle’s Prediction: Mohun Bagan 2—1 Mahindra United
JCT v CHIRAG UNITED:
JCT once again proved that they are lions in their own backyard, with a whopping 5-1 victory over Viva Kerala. Henry Chukwukere scored a brilliant hattrick and Emannuel Okoro netted twice to lift the home side up to the top half of the league standings. Goalkeeper Karanjeet Singh also came up with few brilliant saves to deny Viva any chance of recovery. Overall this all-round performance will immensely boost the confidence for the Ludhiana boys.
Chirag’s slightest title hope evaporated completely when they went down against pole-sitter Dempo in the round 21 tie. Their Brazilian striker Joshimar Martins is suspended for this match, which means veteran striker Asim Biswas will share the goal-scoring responsibilities with Edmilson. The experienced Sandeep Nandy will be back under the crossbar for the Kolkata team. For the records, both sides had played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg match at Kolkata.
TheHardTackle’s Prediction: JCT 0—1 Chirag United
PUNE FC v VIVA KERALA:
Viva suffered their worst defeat of the season against JCT in the last round match. Their vulnerability at the defense while dealing with long aerial balls was completely exposed by JCT’s tall strikers. Pune FC’s shrewd tactician Derrick Pereira must have noticed this weakness, and is expected to employ a similar strategy to destroy the Kerala defense.
Viva might employ a defensive 5-4-1 formation and use Tanmoy Karma to man-mark Pune’s playmaker Izumi Arata. Throughout the season, Pune’s main concern has been the lack of goal scoring abilities. A strong defense coupled with excellent goalkeeping by Subrata Pal have earned them those narrow 1-0 victories till now. Their striking partnership of Edmar Figueira and Jeje Lalpekhlua has proved to be a super flop throughout the tournament; the only saving grace for them in this department is Izumi Arata, who chipped in with goals at crucial stages to help them keep floating in the middle of the league table.
TheHardTackle’s Prediction: Pune FC 1—0 Viva Kerala
SPORTING GOA v DEMPO:
Two teams with completely different outlooks will face each other in this crucial round 22 Goan derby. Dempo – the league leaders, with four points cushion over second placed Mahindra – will look to secure all three points from this match, to consolidate their top of the table standing. Bottom placed Sporting will look to snatch at least a point to continue their valiant fight for survival.
Sporting earned a huge boost of confidence by defeating defending champion Churchill Brothers in round 21. After a poor start, they managed to win four out of their last five matches, which helped them to reduce the deficit to only two points from their nearest rivals Mumbai FC. The Flaming Oranje’s hope of a surprise win over Dempo will lie with Junior Obagbemiro’s striking prowess. For Dempo, Beto will be the key player.
TheHardTackle’s Prediction: Sporting 1—1 Dempo
SALGAOCAR v AIR INDIA:
Salgaocar snatched a solitary point from Pune FC in their last round match, which can prove to be decisive for their battle of survival at the end of the season. Salgaocar has always performed well in their home conditions, and Air India has been pathetic in most of the away matches. Salgaocar’s only problem has been the lack of finishing, and Karim Bencheriffa needs to address this issue at the earliest. It is worth mentioning that the Salgaocar custodian, Kalyan Chaubey, has been a pillar between the posts and has bagged three MOM awards in this campaign, the most by any goalkeeper.
Air India suffered one of their worst defeats in recent times against Mohun Bagan in round 21. They have conceded most number of goals in the league till now, so clearly defense is the main area of concern for them. Going by the current form, strengths and weaknesses, this would be a tight tactical game; midfield supremacy could be the decisive factor. Mondjou Keita and ND Opara will be the key players for Salgaocar and Air India respectively.
TheHardTackle’s Prediction: Salgaocar 2—1 Air India
EAST BENGAL v CHURCHILL BROTHERS:
Match postponed due to AFC Cup commitments for both the teams. The new schedule for the match is yet to be published.