I-League table is expected to undergo some major changes after almost all the teams shopping during the winter break. It was quite imminent as some of the teams showcased gritty performances, while others continued to struggle. With only a handful of games left in the season, all teams have everything to play for in the upcoming rounds. Round 18 is no exception with some critical fixtures scheduled to be played out.
The Churchill Brothers Juggernaut
The side which was struggling to garner their first triumph in the league until recently, are suddenly the most feared team as the remaining fixtures roll out. The Federation Cup champs have come from the break to hoard four points from their last two games, catapulting themselves outside the drop zone. Mariano Dias’s side now sits at the eleventh spot as they look to break their winless streak in away games in Kolkata. News recruits Wolfe, Lagos and Shabana are all expected to start this match.
The Red Machines are now unbeaten in their last eight matches, including a robust performance in the last match at the same ground against title chasing East Bengal to secure a point. Mohun Bagan however has not had a cheerful past couple of months as the Kolkata side failed in IFA Shield and was ousted in the semi- finals of the Fed Cup, followed by a defeat by Salgaocar in round 17. Karim Bencharifa’s side will be without Odafa once again, adding to the problems upfront. The Mariners have failed to hit the back of the net in their last four matches.
A victory here for the Churchill Brothers would take the Goan outfit five points clear off the drop zone and within one point of their hosts tomorrow. Last time these two sides met in the Fed Cup semi-final, Churchill Brothers came on the top. The reverse fixture of the league in Goa previously finished in a stalemate.
The Black Panthers Need To Break the Fall
Mohammedan Sporting has had a real roller coaster ride after their comeback in the top flight of Indian football this season. The Kolkata side has been clinical in Cup competitions but has succumbed to pressure situations in the league. After clinching the IFA shield last week, the Black Panthers were once again outdone by a stylish Pune FC side at the Balewadi Stadia. This accounts for the side’s seventh loss of the season. Penn Orji needs to arrive on the scene big time for the club to launch a fight back, away from the drop zone.
Sanjay Sen’s side welcome an ambitious Salgaocar side in this round. The Goan side scraped past Mohun Bagan in the previous round to reach the fifth spot. A victory here could be disastrous for the Mohammedan Sporting side but could propel the visitors to the fourth spot. Derrick Pereira’s side would once again pin hopes on Darryl and Dudu to get the visitors going. Dudu got on the score sheet for the Goan Greens at the Tilak Stadium and will be the man to watch out for the Dhanachandra led defense.
Last time these two teams met In Goa, Salgaocar comfortably won the tie with hitting the back of the net thrice without any reply from the struggling Kolkata side.
United SC’s Win-less Streak, A Matter Of Concern?
It has already been a season to forget for all the Purple Brigade faithful as the club witnessed an expected mass exodus during the winter transfer window. United SC came back after the break with different coach and manager, which is never easy. United has enough points in the kitty to take that risk it seems. The Kolkata side opened the season after the break with another disheartening draw at the Kalyani stadium. Ananta Ghosh’s side now welcome Shillong Lajong as they look to to hoard a win after three months.
In form Shillong Lajong would be looking to pick up their season where they had left it before the winter break. This is already the best season for the side from the North East as they look to finish the season on a high. Currently lying at the fourth spot, Shillong visit Kolkata in hope of increasing the gap between themselves and the fifth place team. Shillong scored a mammoth eight goals during the group stages in the Fed Cup, which will be something on the radar of discussions in United SC camp before the match. Fromer ONGC man Eric Brown would be the one to watch out.
League Leaders Took To Start From Where They Had Left
Bengaluru FC surprised many when they went into the break leading the pack. The team from the garden city now return to finish what they had started. Led by the charismatic AIFF player of the player – Sunil Chetrri, who is also leading the chart of Indian goalscorers in the league, Bengaluru FC march towards a dream of winning their maiden title in their debut season. The side would be looking to overcome the disappointment of Fed Cup as they welcome Mumbai FC to the Bangalore Stadium. With Sporting Clube hot on their heels, any hiccup at this stage could prove very costly for Westwood’s side.
Mumbai FC saw their captain leave in the transfer market, which is never a good sign. But the Khalid Jamil mentored side shipped in recruits to counter their speculated fall in the standings. The side from west coast hasn’t won in the last six games and will be planning to turn around the season after a much needed break from the league. This match would really define what to expect from this relegation threatened side over the course of the league. Ebi Sukore has been bought back to enhance the attacking skills. with just four points above the drop zone, these last few matches would surely prove to very vital for the Mumbai side. First leg in Balewadi saw both the teams split points.
East Bengal- Still title contenders?
After a lame draw at home against a rejuvenated Churchill Brothers, some people have dropped the idea of East Bengal storming into podium positions and then eventually threatening the title contenders. The draw essentially meant that the Lal-Holud brigade remain slotted at the seventh place with nineteen points, still eleven points of the leaders. Which makes this game even more critical for the Kolkata side, especially after buying no one in the window.
Arthur Papas’ project to recreate the magic in the Goan side has somehow failed this season. Fans and the owners have shown pateince as the team works together in a transitional phase of the most successful I-League side . Dempo has clawed it’s way back into the top half of the table and are on level with their visitors. Dempo registered only their fourth win of the season after the break in the last round with a win over Rangdajied United. One of their big winter signing – Amiri, got on the score sheet, making his presence felt. Both the teams would be hoping to end the season in or around the podium this season, and a victory in this match would enhance those chances.
Mohun Bagan AC V Churchill Brothers SC, February 21, 6.00 PM
MDSP V Salgaocar, February 22, 6.00 PM
United SC V Shillong Lajong FC, February 16, 2.30 PM
Bengaluru FC V Mumbai FC, February 23, 4.00 PM
Dempo SC V East Bengal, February 23, 6.00 PM