Excitement has reached fever-pitch as the KFL is set to wrap up in the next few days. In the end the title race predictably turned into a two-horse one. Arch-rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have matched each other blow by blow till now, and it all comes down to the all important derby on 26th of this month. The team which wins that derby can effectively seal the title.
The “other” teams
Before going into the traditional powerhouses, let us spare a moment to praise Raghu Nandi’s brave hearts. Aryan football club, one of the oldest in India, are currently placed 3rd in the table. They are 6 points ahead of 4th placed Mohammedan SC. Raghu Nandi’s side are the only team other than East Bengal who are still unbeaten in KFL. With just 3 goals conceded in 12 matches, Aryan has the best defence in the league. Their unbeaten run has included wins over Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan as well as a draw against Chirag. They couldn’t challenge for the title but they did spice up the league with their performances.
Durand Cup winners Chirag United have struggled to maintain consistency in KFL. While they have drawn against the giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, they have lost to teams like Southern Samity and Peerless. They have been maligned by injuries throughout the campaign and credit must be given to Subrata Bhattacharya for still keeping them in top-5.
Mohammedan SC celebrated the 75th anniversary of their historic KFL win. The Black and Whites were the first Indian club to win KFL. In the 1930s, they had assembled one of the greatest club sides in the history of Indian football, winning the title 5 times in a row. Their current condition is a stark contrast though. Mohammedan’s brief resurgence under Fuja Tope saw them clinch the 4th spot ahead of Chirag. However, with 4 matches still left, the position of 3rd, 4th and 5th teams can still change.
Newly promoted Southern Samity started well but was hampered by off-field issues. The club finished as runners up in recently concluded All India Brigade of Gurkhas Gold Cup but couldn’t muster a decent showing in the league. Eastern Railways, the last “small” team to win the league, is looking towards a humiliating relegation. Tollygunge Agragami, who used to compete in NFL six years ago, is also fighting to avoid the drop.
It all comes down to the derby match…
In the end, as usual, the other teams don’t matter, it boils down to the fierce rivals – East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Currently the Red and Golds have 40 points from 14 matches; the Green and Maroons have 37 from equal number of games. They are almost neck and neck in terms of goal difference – the table toppers have a GD of +39, while Bagan have +37.
East Bengal has enjoyed a perfect cent percent success in derbies this season. They won the Federation Cup Final 1-0. In the final of a recent invitation tournamentm, held to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Mohammedan’s KFL triumph, the Red&Golds defeated Bagan in penalties after the match finished 3-3 in regulation time. Bagan coach Stanley Rosario is under tremendous pressure the break the jinx. Despite putting together one of the best strike-forces in Indian Football, Bagan are yet to win a trophy this season. A failure to win KFL may bring down curtains on Rosario’s stint.
Team News And Tactical Brief
When Bagan face their arch-rivals on the 26th, Stanley Rosario will have the services of all three foreign strikers – Barreto, Chidi and Muritala. The three strikers have combined to score an astounding 37 goals in the league. Muritala leads the pack with 18 goals including two hat tricks. It was “Muri” who rescued Bagan from the jaws of defeat against Peerless in last match – scoring two goals in injury time. Chidi has played more as a support striker to Muritala, as he did with Dudu during his days in Goa. Chidi himself is a proven scorer and has scored crucial goals when Muritala has failed to deliver. The Nigerian single handedly earned Bagan the victory against Mohammedan SC.
In his late 30s, Jose Ramirez Barreto is no longer the force he used to be. However, thanks to his brilliant tactical and technical abilities, the Brazilian still continues to be one of Bagan’s driving forces. He has often been used as a deep lying play-maker and his eye for a killer pass has set-up several goals for the two strikers up-front. Barreto was suffering from a bout of dengue two weeks ago, now he is fit. With a goal in his come-back game, the heart-throb of Mohun Bagan fan base will be raring to have a go at EB defenders.
Despite the strikers getting the entire spotlight, it is Snehashis Chakravarty who was been the most impressive player for Bagan so far. He has been the driving force behind Bagan’s forward surges. His set-piece delivery has been pin-point and will be crucial in case of a deadlock. Gouranga Biswas is another player who has gathered rave reviews whenever he has played. Lack of a proper destroyer in the midfield has often exposed Bagan defence to unnecessary pressure.
The defence still remains a major cause of concern for the Green and Maroons. The full-backs have often been out of position while centre-backs look shaky. Goalkeeper Shilton Paul has been in impeccable form this season, something which has often bailed out the backline.
East Bengal’s unstoppable warship was somewhat stuttered in last few matches. The damage has been mostly done by Chirag United. Chirag not only inflicted East Bengal’s only defeat of the season in Durand Cup semis, but also prevented them from clinching full three points in KFL. The Fed Cup champions were given a scare by Southern Samity in their last match only to be rescued by a late Penn Orji goal.
Trevor Morgan has relied on his 4-3-3 formation and it has worked wonders. Penn Orji is given a free role, which means the system turns into a flexible 4-3-1-2 often. Tolgey Ozbey has been scoring goals with good frequency, his partner Robin Singh is also in fine touch, he scored a brace in the last derby match.
East Bengal’s heart and lung is Mehtab Hussain. Playing the “Makalele” role Mehtab is not only the starting point of their attacks, but also provides solid cover to the defenders. A point to note here is that in the two matches, where East Bengal could not get a winning result this season, Mehtab was unavailable. While Mehtab was injured in the Durand Cup semifinal loss to Chirag, he could not participate in the 1-1 draw against the same opponent in Kolkata League due to suspension.
Sanju Pradhan and Naoba Singh has been very impressive on the wings so far. Their stamina and burst of pace has troubled the opposition players time and again. Reisangmei Vasum is set to miss this key encounter due to ankle injury. A fit-again Alvito D’Cunha, who has a track record of producing brilliant performances against Mohun Bagan, can be Morgan’s trump card in this match. Alvito did no harm to his reputation by scoring a goal in his cameo comeback appearance against Bagan in the recent MSC Invitaion Tournament.
Uga Okpara has proved to be another brilliant foreign recruit for the Red and Golds. He has provided East Bengal defence the much needed calmness and stability. Okpara’s partner in central defence, young Nirmal Chhetri has often been the rock at the back, repelling away attackers. Moreover the presence of reliable Sandip Nandy under the goal-bar will be an added boost for the Red and Gold defenders.
As always, it is impossible to predict the outcome in the derby. East Bengal might have a 100% record so far, but both the matches were very close. Excitement has been increasing exponentially in past few days. The Salt Lake Stadium may witness a 90,000 plus crowd for this match. The match is expected to be a goal scoring thriller. El Clasico will take place a few days after this derby, however rest assured, this match will be no less intense than the Spanish clash of titans.