In I-League Round 13, East Bengal and Pailan Arrows faces each other in an attempt overturn their fortunes in Kolkata while high-flying Mumbai FC welcomes Champions Dempo SC at their own den. Also, I-League Core Committe meeting is scheduled to solve the puzzles regarding the Kolkata Derby while Duler Stadium is ready to welcome the football bonanza. TheHardTackle takes a look at the matches and also at key tactical battles that could shape the results in the six matches to be played in this round. 

Shillong test awaits high flying Pune FC

Pune FC continues their title challenge

Pune FC continues their title challenge

Top flight football returns to Shillong after a short break and the hosts faces one of the toughest tests in the form of high-flying Pune FC. Coming in the aftermath of a big defeat against the then league bottom side ONGC, Shillong Lajong might find it too difficult to face the stern test from the most inform team in I-League – Pune FC. The likes of Ebi Sukore, Mimchol Sen, Gbeneme Friday and Subhash Singh need good support from other players to implement Desmong Bulpin’s direct football philosophies. In their last match the north eastern outfit struggled against the brilliance of Japanese Maestro Katsumi Yusa and his foreign compatriot Eric Brown. Shillong Lajong FC need to learn from their mistakes to plug the gaps in defense and only a stellar performance can save them some bushes.

After the thrashing of Champions Dempo SC at their own den, Pune FC has kept the same level of performance against the Indian Galacticos Prayag United SC to notch two crucial wins out of two. The title challengers Pune FC are riding high on confidence and with their present form Shillong Lajong challenge is theirs to lose. Captain Duhou Pierre is their dictator in chief and he has been providing a consistent supply line for the likes of James Moga, Jeje Lalpekhula and Arata Izumi to pounce upon. Once the Pune FC camp gets going it will be tough to put breaks on them and north eastern outfit has a tough task in preventing the Red lizards from dictating the tempo. It remains to be seen how the Red Lizards will deal with the physicality involved in the direct approach of Shillong Lajong FC , if they can pass that test it will be another 3 points in their kitty.

Prayag United looking to add more misery to Sporting Club’s relegation battle

Prayag United will be looking to get back in the mix after the reverse suffered against Pune FC in the last round of I-League. Prayag’s match against Sporting is played in one of the best surfaces in India at the Kalyani Stadium and Nabab Bhattacharya is expecting the fans to act as the 12th man to dismantle a sinking ship. The absence of play-maker Carloz Hernandez will be a big miss for the Galacticos, Prayag faithfuls believe that they have enough firepower in the form of Ranti Martins well supported by upcoming star Vineeth C K. In defence Bello Rasaq is suspended so there will be added pressure on Subrata Pal and Gourmangi Singh to step up to the Sporting challenge. Prayag needs to be clinical in-front of goal while shutting down the shop at the back.

Once the Galacticos gets going it will be very difficult to stop them in their tracks, Sporting Club will try all the weapons available in their armory to get out of the relegation zone. Not many would have predicted a relegation battle for the Goan teams Salgaocar and Sporting Club De Goa, currently both of them are in that dreaded zone trying to carve out an opening to escape from the unthinkable. Kalu Ogba, Adil Khan, Dawson Fernandez, Joseph Perriera and co. have a peculiar mountain to climb in the form of Prayag United. James Moga’s replacement Bong Bertranad is no more a part of Sporting roster and the striking responsibility has fallen into the shoulders of Dawson Fernandez. To an extent Sporting survival will depend on his exploits in front of goal, if Prayag can stop the sporting raids then a win for the Kolkata based side will be the most likely outcome in this fixture.

ONGC hope to continue the home run at the expense of United Sikkim

Another home game for ONGC!

Another home game for ONGC!

ONGC has looked like two completely different teams in home and away matches. If their away form is woeful then their home run is mesmerizing to say the least. So far 9 out of their 10 points were fetched from Home fixtures, which accounts two wins and 3 draws at their newly shifted base in New Delhi. Japanese players have hit the I-League by storm and the leader of the pack is none other than ONGC Maestro Katsumi Yusa. Another foreigner in the ONGC set up Eric Brown has been another brilliant this season for the institutional side along with Jatin Bisht. This trio’s performance has been the main reason behind any success achieved by ONGC this season and United Sikkim needs to deal with their danger if they are hoping to grab any point in the battle just above the relegation zone.

United Sikkim and ONGC were in the mix of relegation from the start and as this game approaches these sides finds themselves hanging just above the danger zone. It’s a vital fixture in the relegation mud fight and it can be effectively termed as a 6 pointer to avoid the drop. United Sikkim has been heavily reliant on their skipper Anwar Ali to get them out of trouble. In this fixture Anwar Ali and Sandesh Jhinghan will come up against an inform Katsumi Yusa and Eric Brown in an attempt to earn some valuable points towards safety. Linekar Machado and Michael Rodriguez are the midfield pillars of United Sikkim and the result of this fixture will also depend on their ability to pull the strings.

Established stars of East Bengal to Battle out with the Pailan Arrows starlets

East Bengal’s glorious run has taken a nosedive in their last two outings. Unbeaten after 9 matches, the Kolkata giant has suffered 2 defeats in two in the aftermath of the dramatic Kolkata Derby. The meanest defense in I-League has let in 3 goals in last two outings to pave way to their unexpected defeats. East Bengal found it tough to unlock the defenses of Prayag United and Mumbai FC in their last 2 outings. After 180 minutes of search for a goal finally they found their way into the opponents goal post with an injury time goal from Edeh Chidi. Still East Bengal’s defensive record is the best in the league while their offence has lacked the venom and precision for a top side. East Bengal strikers Edeh Chidi, Manandeep Singh and Robin Singh needs to be on their toes to pounce upon the chances against tactically strong and organized Pailan Arrows team.

Pailan Arrows after their formation has struggled to cope with the demands of I-League in previous seasons and it went to such an extent that only a special clause saved them from the dreaded relegation. The scenario has changed completely under the tutelage of Arthur Papas, now Pailan Arrows are considered as a force to reckon within the Indian Football fraternity. The likes of Alwyn George, Milan Singh and co. have impressed the pundits and fans with matured displays beyond their age and Pailan Arrows fan base is expanding day by day. Their tactical flexibility and a possession based football has been a nightmare for the opposition teams and in each every match their strategy has been spot on. Occasional lapses in concentration and profligacy in-front of goal means that they are occupying mid-table mediocrity. Both teams are coming in the aftermath of a losing streak and they will give it their all to get back on track in what promises to be the match of the week.

Salgaocar hopes for change in fortunes as Duler Stadium makes its Debut

Salgaocar SC is considered as one of the big names of Indian football and the former champions roster is blessed with talents such as Karanjit Singh, Sean Rooney, Angel Guirado, Rocus Lamare, Francis Fernandez etc. Even with an array of talents at their disposal they are finding themselves in a mess created themselves. Currently they are occupying the last spot in I-League thanks to their nonperformance one after the other. A change in venue is on the cards as Duler Stadium in Mapusa will be inaugurated with this fixture. Whether a change in venue can trigger a change in the fortunes of Salgaocar? Salgaocar has released under performing foreign strikers Sean Rooney and Angel Guirado in an attempt to salvage some pride in this editions I-League campaign as they are looking to improve the strike force with new recruits.

Air India : 2012 Durand Cup Winners

Air India : 2012 Durand Cup Winners

The Pilots will be hoping to add more misery to Salgaocar’s woes after a break last weekend. Air India has grabbed a massive 7 points out of a possible 9 in the month of December and will be looking to pounce upon the shaky Salgaocar team to mark a perfect ending to an unbeaten December. Their recent performance has lifted them out of the relegation battle for the time being and they will be hoping to put Salgaocar in deeper trouble and thereby making their route easier as well. Micky Fernandez, M Pradeep and Henry Ezeh are the key ingredients in the Pilot camp and it will be their performance in the newly built Duler Stadium which can determine the outcome of another relegation fight. Usually players takes time to adjust to new surroundings and it remains to be seen how they are coping with the new Duler Stadium in Mapusa.

Can Mumbai FC inflict another dent in Dempo’s title defense?

Mumbai FC broke the meanest defense in their last outing to register a shocking win over former champions East Bengal. Mumbai FC has been performing above expectations this season and their recent run of form of four wins out of five has been top notch. Their has been a number of good performers in the Mumbai camp with ND Okpara leading the line well and he is ably supported by Nicholas Rodrigues, Evans Quao, Justin Stephen and Abhishek Yadav in other parts of the pitch. As a team the Mumbaikars are performing well and currently they are reaping rewards because of the teamwork. Abhishek Yadav has surprised many with his display at the defense recently.

Dempo hasn’t recovered fully from the thumping suffered at the hands of Pune FC. Even-though they limped their way to the final whistle against Pailan Arrows, the defending champions are far from their peak. Joaquim Abranches played the role of striker to perfection in the last outing to register a victory against a brilliant display from the Pailan Arrows youngsters. Dempo is spluttering at the moment and they need to wake up from their slumber to steady their title defense against an inform Mumbai FC. Controversial star Rohan Rickets is suspended by the club and the club is in a pile of disarray at the moment. Dempo needs to face the challenges both on and off the field to keep the Mumbaikars in check and even a small lapse in concentration can tilt the match in other teams favor  Mumbai FC will be hoping for an unlikely win to make the matters worse for the defending champions.

Predictions

Shillong Lajong FC 1 – 3 Pune FC

Prayag United SC 2 – 0 Sporting Club De Goa

ONGC FC 1 – 0 United Sikkim FC

East Bengal 1 – 1 Pailan Arrows

Salgaocar FC 0 – 0 Air India

Mumbai FC 2 – 1 Dempo SC