Ten of the thirteen teams will participate in the third round of I-League 2013/14. Neither East Bengal nor Mohun Bagan will be in action and Pune FC will also take a break.
Dempo and Rangdajied look for first win
Dempo’s start to the season has been ordinary to say the least. Arthur Papas has quickly found out that life in I-League can be difficult as the five time champions have struggled in both their first matches. There are also rumors doing rounds that Dempo’s senior players, including Beto are not fully convinced about Papas and it is even being claimed that the Brazilian has altogether stopped attending team meetings because of his problems with the coach. These reports may be exaggerated but Dempo’s poor start is a fact. Dempo’s recent track record of foreign players is patchy at best and their new signings are yet to make an impact this season.
Rangdajied went through bit of a trial by fire in their first two away matches, losing to United FC and Bengaluru FC. North Eastern teams have often been poor travelers in I-League but are a different package altogether in their home ground. Altitude and crowd support are often defining factors in these games and expect a rush of fans to the stadium in what will be the first ever I-League home match for one of the oldest clubs in the region. In terms of squad strength Dempo may be much better on paper but the home team may be encouraged by the visitors’ poor recent form and nick their first win.
Will United SC maintain the fantastic start
United SC has put behind all off-field issues and staying true to their name, provided a united front to win both their matches till now. Despite not having played together for just a few weeks United has been playing better football than some teams which have had longer pre-seasons. Ranty Martins has started where he ended last season and has already found a scoring touch with new recruit Eric Brown making an early impact as well. Their Indian contingent has also hit the ground running with Elco Sattorie intelligently rotating his small squad. This weekend United will face their first major test when they travel to face a buoyant Bengaluru FC.
Garden City’s newest football system has flowered in first two matches. Ashley Westwood’s team is quite possibly the most tactically well-organized team in this year’s I-League. John Johnson is fast turning into the best central defender in the league while Sean Rooney has shown better form than his Salgaocar stint. But perhaps the most exciting thing about them has been the young pairing of Malemngamba Meetei and Beikhokhei Beingaichho, born twelve months apart in 1992, tearing along the flanks. A boisterous home support has been another important factor behind Bengaluru’s good form in first 2 matches.
Cornell Glen looks to score his first goal in Shillong
Cornell Glen is easily the highest profile foreigner ever to sign for Lajong FC till date. The 31 year old striker has represented Trinidad and Tobago 66 times, scoring 23 times and was part of the team which famously qualified for 2006 World Cup. Lajong management have wisely signed Glen on a two year deal, knowing well that he could be a differentiating factor in I-League. Glen started his I-League career with a bang as he bagged a brilliant brace to help Lajong pick up a shock 3-0 win over Dempo in Goa. Against Pune FC he found less space as Snoei’s side is one of the best organized teams in India and was looking to play a more defensive game in Shillong. Cornell still managed to create a few chances but was unable to score in his second game.
Lajong are favorites against Sporting Clube on the coming weekend. The Flaming Orange has made a poor start to I-League and in front of the local crowd Glen would be looking to score his first home goals for Lajong FC. And there is little to suggest that he will fail to do it.
Sukhwinder’s honeymoon turning bitter
Sukhwinder Singh has a glittering track record but his association with Churchill Brothers has every chance of turning into a failed one. “Sukhi” had never coached outside Punjab at club level and there is a chance that he will struggle to adapt to the different football culture that exists in Goa. The former NFL winner has had precious little success in past five years and even took a break from the game after JCT’s team got disbanded tragically. He has never worked under an owner like Alemao Churchill, who is often heavily involved in football related matters. Sukhwinder’s style of playing organized but often dire football was another sharp contrast in a club always known for playing with attacking flair.
They may have done well in Goan league but two games into I-league, the defending champions don’t look in the best of health. An opening loss to Salgaocar was compounded with an uneventful home draw against Mohun Bagan where the Red Machines didn’t create enough chances for a home team. There are reports doing round that the trigger happy Alemao may be losing patience with Sukhwinder. Under these circumstances Sukhi needs a victory badly, preferably a handsome one. Mumbai FC have never been good travelers and are one of the picks for the relegation battle this season. So, it is the ideal time for Sukhwinder’s JCT to pick up their first three points.
Mohammedan SC in crisis, already
The euphoria of the Black Panthers winning their first major title in two and half decades is fading fast and Mohammedan’s questionable squad strength is coming under fire just one game into I-League. Mohammedan suffered a rude shock days after their Durand win as they were thoroughly outclassed by Pune FC at home in the opening I-League match. They have continued to struggle in IFA League as well, barely winning against second string United SC and then slumping to an inspiring 1-1 draw against Kalighat MS.
There are problems aplenty. Mohammedan’s expensive squad is centered on their foreign players, most of whom are now unfit. Luciano Sabrosa is set to miss half the season and without him Mohammedan defence looks like a deer caught in the headlights. Penn Orji had started his Mohammedan career in form but picked up an ankle injury in the Durand semi-final and has been missing since. Despite his fantastic goal in the Durand Cup final, Tolgay Ozbey still looks overweight and unfit, unable to continue for 90 minutes. Mohammedan’s Indian players are not strong enough to keep out I-League’s stronger teams and coach Aziz is struggling to field a team strong enough tactically. The Black Panthers are sure to struggle when they travel to Goa to take on Derrick Pereira’s Salgaocar side which looked like title winning material in the first round. There should be goals in this match, most of them likely to end up in the visitors’ net.