As the round 19 of I-League beckons, TheHardTackle takes a look at the matches and also at key tactical battles that could shape the results in the matches to be played in this round. With the Indian Football Team announced for the International Friendly against Palestine, players will be looking to stake claims for a starting spot.

Can Mohun Bagan stop the ONGC Juggernaut?

Mohun Bagan are in search of their first win after their ban was revoked by AIFF. In three games so far they have drawn twice and lost against Salgaocar. After their draw in previous home game, Mariners will be looking to grab maximum points in their home stadium. On other hand, ONGC has a dreadful away form which gives more hope to the Mohun Bagan faithful. For a team boasting of star players, the Mariners have failed to deliver that quality on the pitch in this I-League campaign. With the famous Kolkata derby scheduled soon, Mohun Bagan needs to get their act together to gain momentum and confidence. Even 20 points in their remaining matches may not guarantee them a spot in next year’s I-League, Tolgay Ozbey and CS Sabeeth needs to pump in goals to avoid the unthinkable for one of the biggest clubs in India.

ONGC on an unbeaten run since December!

ONGC on an unbeaten run since December!

ONGC haven’t lost a single I-League game in last two months, a run which spans 7 games. Even-though they haven’t lost in two months, they are yet to register an away win under their belt in I-League 12/13 season. Can they turn the tables on their dreadful away form? The last time when these two teams met, it was a goalless draw, crowd needs more entertainment and that’s what they will be expecting from Katsumi Yusa, Eric Brown and co. ONGC could have registered their first away win and the double over Dempo, but an injury time equalizer spoiled their party. ONGC under Santhosh Kashyap has been sensational so far and will be looking to continue their good work against the mariners who have to play too many matches in a short span of time. It will be a personal grudge match for Kashyap as well, after he was unceremoniously sacked by Mohun Bagan few months back.

Can Pune FC top Salgaocar after their disappointments in recent weeks?

At one stage of the I-League campaign Pune FC was taking everyone by surprise by notching up one win after the other and the pundits started to rank them among the title challengers. Red Lizards lost their track recently as they suffered two defeats in last three outings. Even after controlling the match against East Bengal, Pune FC was unlucky to taste defeat in the last round of I-League. Dohou Pierre, Arata Izumi and James Moga are the spearheads of Pune FC.  They need to perform brilliantly and also have to get the best out of their team-mates to get things back on track. If Pune FC can perform upto their potential three points are up for grabs against Salgaocar. The performance of Subhash Singh is a cause of concern for the Pune faithful, he needs to step up and start scoring goals soon. Arata Izumi became the first nationalized player for the Indian team and will be looking forward to stake a claim for a starting spot.

With mere 14 points under their belt Salgaocar are still in the relegation mix and they need to get their act together to wake up from the slumber. After showing some promise in last few rounds, Salgaocar had to bite the dust against Sporting Club in their last outing. Defender Rahul Kumar’s send off added insult to injury as Sporting outplayed them for majority of second half. Against a side such as Pune FC, Salgaocar will be hoping to keep their performance and discipline intact to carve out a result. New recruit Nigerian striker OJ Obatola has the huge role to play as he is primarily responsible for finding the back of the net for the Goans.

Shillong Lajong and United Sikkim in relegation dog fight

An injury time equalizer is a big boost for any team as it often feels like a moral victory. That gives them hope and more fighting spirit. Shillong Lajong faces United Sikkim in I-League Round 19 in the aftermath of an injury time draw against Air India. 27 year old Japanese striker Sho Kamimura scored twice to grab a vital point against the Pilots in Shillong Lajong’s outing and he will be the man to watch out for against United Sikkim. With 16 points under their belt a win against United Sikkim can take them near safety but it will plunge the visitors into more trouble. Kamimura’s strike partner Sushil Kumar Singh will be looking to celebrate his call-up to the national team with goals under his belt ahead of the Palestine friendly.

Skipper Anwar Ali has been leading the United Sikkim outfit from the front and in their last I-League outing he found the net to give them a lead as well. Anwar has been overlooked in-favour other impressive youngsters for the Indian Football Team Friendly against Palestine and will be looking to reclaim his position with consistent displays for United Sikkim which may also help them to stay clear of the relegation zone. With just 12 points from 18 points, United Sikkim is deep in relegation trouble and a win against Shillong Lajong will give them the much needed hope of retaining I-League status. United Sikkim Coach has targeted matches against Shillong Lajong and ONGC as the chance to earn three points and it will be an interesting battle on the cards as the relegation fight nears the climax.

Can Pailan Arrows upset Kolkata giants East Bengal?

Pailan Arrows has been showing immense maturity, grit and determination in this year’s I-League campaign under the stewardship of Arthur Papas. The recently hard fought late equalizer against United Sikkim is another sign of their development and maturity. With talented youngsters in their rank, this team is slowly making waves in I-League with gritty displays one after the other. The addition of Len Doungel has given the Arrows strike force more venom at the front. The recent call up to Alwyn George and Shouvik Ghosh to the national team will be a confidence booster to the Arrows youngsters ahead of their short trip to the Kalyani Stadium.

Sanju Pradhan has been overlooked for the national team

East Bengal will be flying high on confidence after their win against Pune FC in a high voltage clash. Edeh Chidi’s brace was enough to see off the threat from the title challengers from Pune. The lack of penetration from East Bengal’s Indian strikers Robin Singh and Manandeep Singh remains as a cause of concern for Trevor Morgan while Sanju Pradhan will be eager to show that the national team selectors got it wrong after omitting him from the national squad. As the I-League campaign nears it’s climax, East Bengal cannot afford any more slip up with League Leaders – Churchill Brothers sitting pretty at the top with a two point lead with two games in hand. On one side we have an inexperienced bunch of youngsters and on the other side one of the giants in Indian Football – an interesting battle on the cards at Kalyani.

Air India looks to stay clear of relegation zone

Air India is still in the relegation zone, as they conceded in injury time against Shillong Lajong. It took two points from their tally which could have helped them to stay clear of relegation trouble. With Prayag United visiting the Pilots, their proposition  is getting more difficult. With 10 more games remaining Pilots have a better chance of avoiding relegation than fellow strugglers, but they will be looking to get as many points from the remaining matches as possible. Henry Ezeh and Elijah Junior will be vital to their campaign and realistically they have a chance of securing a decent mid table finish.

Prayag United has spent crores in assembling a squad which their management believed can bring them I-League glory. Prayag United sit six points behind I-League leaders Churchill Brothers who have two games in hand. Is their title challenge all but over? Barring miracles it will be difficult for the Galacticos to lift the title. Prayag United will be looking forward to get maximum points from their remaining games to be hopeful of things falling in their favour. Ranti Martins has been finding the net with regularity while Vineeth C.K‘s consistent displays has earned him a spot in the national team. With Subrata Pal, Gourmangi Singh, Lalkamal Bhowmick and Vineeth CK in the reckoning for a starting spot in the national team, we can expect a top notch performance from Prayag United in I-League round 19.

Dempo Look To Get Title Challenge Back on Track

It required an injury time equalizer from Peter Carvalho to keep the record I-League winners in the mix for a sixth title. Dempo SC has been a shadow of their former self in this seasons I-League campaign. They narrowly avoided a shocking double at the hands of ONGC last weekend after their routing of United Sikkim gave some hope that Dempo are back on track. Previous national teams has been dominated by Dempo players where as this time around the scenario has taken an expected turn due to their lack of impressive displays. Dempo needs to get their act together if they are hopeful of cashing in on any slip up from Churchill Brothers. Peter Carvalho and Joaquim Abaranches might feel unlucky to miss out on the national team and will be giving their all to impress the national team think tank.

Mumbai FC are sitting pretty at the top half of the table even though some quarters have accused Khalid Jamil’s men for producing “anti football”. Their game might look ugly and physical, but they know how to survive and how to earn results. The strike force of ND Okpara and Yusif Yakubu can be lethal and has goals among them. This seasons surprise package Mumbai FC has done Dempo and other title challengers a favour by taking off two points from I-League leaders Churchill Brothers. Can Mumbai FC turn the tables once again? An upset is on the cards as the Mumbai outfit visits Goa. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to pull another upset against the defending champions.

Sporting takes on Churchill in Goan derby

Sporting has scripted an emphatic win over Salgaocar to jump upto 9th spot in I-League table. They can have a sigh of relief as to move out of relegation zone for the time being  but only five points separate them from relegation as they welcome Churchill Brothers in Goan derby. Sporting will be looking to pull of a surprise as Churchill Brothers defence will be missing their star defender Bilal Najjarine. A numerical advantage helped Sporting in their last campaign as Ogba Kalu and new recruit Angel Berlanga pounced on the opposition soon after the dismissal. Hardworking and tireless Ogba Kalu will be the key man to watch out for from the Sporting camp.

Churchill Brothers looked totally off-colour against Mumbai FC in their last outing. To add insult to injury it was the last match of their defensive stalwart Bilal Najjarine who is heading to UAE for a new stint. Can they cope with the absence of their top dog? Will it derail their title challenge? A lot of questions are doing the rounds in the media as Churchill Brothers prepares to take on Sporting Club de Goa. Sandip Nandy has earned a recall to the national team at the age of 38 after a string of impressive displays and he will look to do justice to the call up with a good performance. Churchill Brothers squad lacks strength in depth and it will be another cause of concern for the I-League leaders. An interesting battle is on the cards at Goa and all the title challegers will be eagerly looking forward to this match.

Fixtures and Predictions

  • 1st February : Mohun Bagan vs ONGC FC (Prediction : 2-2)
  • 1st February : Sporting Club De Goa vs Churchill Brothers (Prediction : 1-2)
  • 2nd February : Pune FC vs Salgaocar (Prediction : 3-1)
  • 2nd February : Pailan Arrows vs East Bengal (Prediction : 1-2)
  • 2nd February : Shillong Lajong FC vs United Sikkim FC (Prediction : 1-1)
  • 2nd February : Air India vs Prayag United (Prediction : 0-1)
  • 2nd February : Dempo SC vs Mumbai FC (Prediction : 1-1)