I-League title race took another twist last week when the top 4 teams suffered defeats. The relegation battle is also getting interesting with every passing week with a mere 4 points separating the bottom 5 teams. Apart from Mohun Bagan, all other teams are in action as the I-League battle gets heated with matches coming thick and fast in scorching heat. The highlights of this round are a clash between Bengaluru FC and Pune FC, which will have a lot of bearing in I-League title race. Goan Derby between Churchill Brothers and Dempo SC also promises to be an exciting encounter.
Can Bengaluru FC deliver a knock out punch to Pune FC’s title aspirations?
Bengaluru FC holds a 7 point lead over Pune FC, who has a game in hand when compared to the hosts. A gap of 10 points will be too difficult to overcome for any side with 4 matches remaining, and Pune FC can be ruled out of the title challenge if they suffer another set back away from home. This is Bengaluru FC’s last home game of the season and they will be counting on their 12th man, the fans, to steer them to victory. Their remaining 3 outings are away fixtures and with Salgaocar FC breathing down their neck and their away form not as good as their home run, this can prove out to be their game of the season. Goalkeeper Pawan Kumar and Foreign recruit Curtis Osano will be missing this rounds action due to suspension. While the onus will be on Skipper Sunil Chettri and his strike partner Sean Rooney to fire them to a victory.
Pune FC are on a win-less streak in last 5 games and will be hoping for a change in fortunes at the Garden City. Pune FC are in dire need of three points after suffering another injury time setback against defending champions Churchill Brothers. A win for Red Lizards will not only rejuvenate their title hopes, but also they will have the bragging rights in a battle which is going to last for a while between the professional football clubs in India. Pune FC will be without the services of goalkeeper Amrinder Singh and skipper Anas Edathodika for this crucial fixture and they need to perform out of their skin to silence the noisy and football loving crowd in Bengaluru FC. The teams tendency to run out of steam towards the closing stages of the game has been punished on more than one occasion this season and Mike Snoei’s men will have to plug the gaps inorder to keep their I-League title hopes alive.
Goan Derby promises to be an exciting encounter
Defending I-League and Federation Cup champions Churchill Brothers are a rejuvenated side since the turn of the new year. They have proved that they are still good enough for any side in the I-League with an injury time win against Pune FC in last week. Mariano Dias coached side is in a very healthy position in AFC Cup Group as well after registering back to back wins in home soil. Their strike force of Balwant Singh, Anthony Wolfe and Christian Lagos are in fine form and are scoring goals for fun at the moment. In midfield Lenny Rodriguez is pulling the strings extremely well and if he gets the measure of Dempo youngsters it will be very difficult to stop the Churchill juggernaut rolling over Arthur Papas’ boys.
Arthur Papas has rebuilt his squad on a bunch of youngsters and will be counting on them to deliver the goods against relegation threatened Churchill Brothers. Dempo SC are still a work in progress, but their possession based playing style is pleasing to the eyes and are expected to yield results in the longer run if not now. The progress made by youngsters Narayan Das and Alwyn George under the tutelage of Australian is quite remarkable and they are expected to blossom further into greater heights. Like Churchill Brothers, Dempo SC also suffered a poor start this season, but they were quick to pull up their socks and the youngsters has shown that they can match any side on their day. With a team in fine goal scoring form on one side and an energetic side with youthful exuberance on the other, Goan derby promises to be an exciting encounter for the football lovers.
Relegation Battle gets Intense in Kolkata
United SC and Mohammedan Sporting are in contention for the dreaded relegation with just four points separating them at the moment. United SC are in deep financial crisis and relegation will be their final nail in the coffin as they will do everything in their capacity to prevent the unthinkable. The team bereft of sponsors, haven’t paid the players this season and it remains to be seen how the team management inspires a sinking ship for a battle against their bottom placed neighbours. Midfielder Asif K, has been a consistent performer for the Kalyani based side and has been knocking on the doors of national team for quite a while now.
Mohammedan SC on the other hand are at the rock bottom after some inconsistent performances throughout the season. The Durand Cup and IFA Shield winners Mohammedan Sporting had lost their path in I-League, and they require a herculean effort to save them from another setback a year after their promotion. Striker Josimar has scored goals throughout the season, but their leaky defence and inconsistency prevented them from climbing the ladders so far. Will the relegation battle rejuvenate the teams to perform out of their skin?
Which Sueoka will turn up against Sporting?
Rueji Sueoka’s season can be explained very well with his performances in the last two matches – inconsistent. Against Rangdajied United, East Bengal play-maker was a frustrated figure looking lost in the middle of the park. He was fuming at his head coach and gesticulated at the manager when he questioned his performance on the pitch. Japanese playmaker walked straight down the tunnel after a forgettable half an hour in the heat. Three days later, he emerged from the bench and came to the rescue of East Bengal with a well taken brace. The two goals had a big say in East Bengal’s outcome from the match against Mumbai FC. His talent is unquestionable, but his temperament and determination raises a few questions.
Khalid Jamil: Tactician or Time Waster?
Mumbai FC over the years have build a reputation of anti football under Khalid Jamil. His time wasting tactics and the play acting skills on display drew of lot of stick from the opposition managers and football lovers alike. On the other hand, he has managed to keep his team afloat with a mediocre budget and few decent footballers. As the highlight was on the negativity surrounding the team and their manager Khalid Jamil, very few have noticed his tactical nous. His boys has nullified the opposition tactics 15 times out of 20 in I-League. He prepares his team based on the opposition and gives importance to minute details of their play to negate their strength. He might not be the spectacular coach everyone is looking forward to, but he definitely knows how to deal with the task in hand.
Bengaluru FC V Pune FC, March 28, 4.00 PM
Churchill Brothers SC V Dempo SC, March 28, 6.00 PM
United SC V Mohammedan SC, March 29, 2.30 PM
Salgaocar FC v Rangdajied United SC, March 29, 5.00 PM
East Bengal V Sporting Club de Goa, March 30, 5.00 PM
Shillong Lajong FC V Mumbai FC, March 30, 5.00 PM