With the I-League entering into the second half of the season, things spice up in the 11th Round as traditional rivals meet each other while others look to strengthen their squad with the hope to change things around. With a very thin margin of error available to all teams, it will interesting to see who can keep their heads up under pressure and who crumbles like a bad cookie at the first touch.
League Toppers Salgaocar host in-form Bengaluru FC
With the I League reaching its half-way point, Salgaocar face tough fixtures on the trot as they host third placed Bengaluru FC at home on Tuesday. Having salvaged a draw against Pune in their last fixture, it will be interesting to see how the Greens react to the pressure. Playing at home, Salgaocar will hold a distinct advantage going into the fixture. Having responded well so far in the league, Salgaocar have made their intentions clear as they look to extend their lead at the top of the table. The main reason behind their success is an organised defence led by the Nigerian centre-back Chika Wali. With a strong presence on the wings, Salgaocar are a threat while on the attack and organised while on the back-foot. A strong midfield with the right mix of youth and experience has helped Coach Derrick Pereira establish the club’s supremacy at the top of the table. Led by Francis Fernandes, Rocus Lamare and Karma Tsewang, the midfield is well-complimented by a threatening attack which is led by their new foreign arrival, Darry Duffy. The Scottish striker has been a constant threat and will be looking forward to the team’s encounter with Bengaluru FC at home.
Bengaluru FC on the other hand are no push-overs. Having won four of their nine fixtures, the new arrivals have made their presence felt in the I League, sitting only two spots below from the top. Having salvaged a draw against Sporting Club de Goa in their last fixture, the team will be itching to get back to their winning ways soon. A visibly diminished team while playing away from home, the team will be looking to improve their away record against league toppers Salgaocar FC on Tuesday. With a leaky defence, the team from Bangalore must improve their away record if they are to seriously contend for the title this year.
Dempo S.C in Dire Straits
Strong favourites at the start of the season, Dempo S.C have failed miserably so far in their I-League campaign this season. Arthur Papas led Dempo are a team strong on paper, but surprisingly weak on the grounds. Having won only two of their nine fixtures, the team needs to for self-introspect and plug their loopholes. Struggling miserably, Dempo have been poor both away and at home. Failing to convert their opportunities into decisive victories, the team has paid the price for a leaky defence and a tottering attack. Simon Colismo, who was brought to Dempo to lead the team’s defence has failed to organise things at the back. Not supported adequately by his team-mates, the gaps in the defence are for all to see. Similarly Billy Mehmet and Jeje were tasked with the responsibility to create opportunities up front but the duo has failed to ignite the team and rescue them from unfavourable situations. The Goan side will be facing Pune F.C at home on Wednesday and the encounter will prove to be a litmus test for Arthur Papas and his men. A tough side, Pune F.C have been in impeccable form this year and currently stand a point from the top. An interesting fixture, it remains to be seen if Dempo S.C can break away from its miserable form or will Pune F.C succeed in taming the Goan giants in their own backyard.
Rangdajied United bolster their squad hoping for a change of fortunes
Newly promoted side Rangdajied United have failed to make their presence felt in the I-League after having recorded not a single victory in their nine fixtures. Having drawn four and lost the other 5, the Meghalayan club have decided to reinforce their side with the hope to turn things around in the second half of the I-League. Having signed five Indian players and one international player in the past one month, the club has put forward a strong statement to all its fans and opponents in the country saying in clear terms that they are no push-overs.
Having conceded 18 goals in their nine fixtures, averaging two goals a game, the side was in much need to reinforce their defence. They thus went ahead and bought the services of Sandesh Jhingan and Gouramangi Singh, two defenders who are tasked with the responsibility to steady the ship at the back. Gouramangi Singh is a much needed addition to the squad and the veteran defender has been signed on loan from the IMG-Reliance league. Sandesh Jhingan too has been roped in from the IMG-Reliance league and is likely to assist Gouramangi at the back to help organise the defence. But the most interesting addition to the team has been the veteran keeper, Subrata Paul, who has been loaned till the end of this year from the IMG-Realiance league to man the responsibility between the posts.
While defence has been a problem for Rangdajied United, their attack too has not been up to the mark this season. Scoring a mere 6 goals in their campaign so far this year, they have bought the services of Kim Seng-Yong to bolster their attack. Considered a stronf presence up front, the side will be banking on their new foreign arrival to rope in the goals for the team. Rangdajied have also brought Manandeep Singh to their squad, having signed him on loan from the IMG-Reliance league. Having previously played for Air India and East Bengal, the squad will benefit from the experienced striker’s presence on the team.
United S.C Stay strong as they visit city rivals East Bengal
Having faced an uncertain future at the start of the I-League, United S.C look set to stage a fairy-tale performance as they overcome all odds to maintain their fantastic form in the league. Three points behind league leaders Salgaocar, the team without a title sponsor continues to defy all odds as they stay true to their team name-United. Having tamed the Goan giants Dempo S.C in their own backyard, the team from Kolkata will now be facing city rivals East Bengal on Thursday. Playing some beautiful football at home and away, United S.C have shown their opponents that they are not to be cowed by their financial troubles. With Vineeth CK and Asif K playing well in the midfield, the team has been stable at the back and also been consistent in the front. Eric Brown has been indispensable for the Kolkatan side, chipping in with goals at regular intervals and linking up the midfield with the attack. All eyes are now on Eelco Schattorie as he prepares his team for a visit to East Bengal who have been languishing in the second half of the league table due to their lack of games this season. So will they be able to continue their brilliant run and extend their lead over city rivals or will the Red and Gold brigade bring to a halt United S.C’s inspirational performances?
Traditional rivals lock horns in Kolkata
Two of the oldest and most respected football clubs, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting, will lock horns on Wednesday in an interesting I-League fixture. Traditional rivals, Mohammadan Sporting lost their way somewhere in the middle but have resurfaced in the I-League and are looking comfortable in their strides. Mohun Bagan on the other hand have not been able to match the aspirations set forward by their fans as they continue to disappoint everyone with their average performances. Trailing by a single point, Mohun Bagan will be looking to keep the visitors at bay and return home with three important points in the bag. Having won only 2 games out of their 9 fixtures, they are yet to reach their potential and will be hoping to turn things around. Having lost the most-important East Bengal derby by a goal in their last fixture, Bagan cannot afford to lose to another city rivals on the trot. The disappointing performance against East Bengal is sure to motivate and inspire the players who will be looking to get back to their winning ways.
Mohammedan Sporting on the other hand will be keen to make their intentions clear by scoring three points over Bagan in a match that will arouse a lot of excitement in Kolkata. Having drawn against Churchill Brothers at home in their last fixture, the club will have to learn to convert their opportunities if they are to improve their record in the I-League.