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East Bengal FC

Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata, India

January 23rd, 2016, 1630 IST.

The London derby can take a backseat on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s 119th birth anniversary, as the biggest fixture in the Indian football calendar is coming up — the Kolkata Derby — one of the most fiercely fought battles in India, as the two bitter rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal prepare to take each other on.

The match is being billed as a home game for Mohun Bagan, but there will be no such advantage for the Mariners, as it will be held at the Salt Lake Stadium, a place that both the teams call home. While defending champions Mohun Bagan would be looking to carry forward their winning form, East Bengal would be looking to get a move on in their I-League campaign, after a not so blistering start.

Team News & Tactical Brief

Mohun Bagan AC

The Mariners have been in flying form in the opening two matches this season, and they have shown that they have a really strong side, in spite of losing some key players. The biggest news coming out of the Mohun Bagan Camp is that their Haitian sensation Sony Norde is back with the team, and is ready to take to the field in this crucial encounter. On the flip side however, their striker Balwant Singh is doubtful for the game, as he has suffered a minor injury, and may not be able to play the match. Word coming out of the Mohun Bagan camp is that Sanjoy Sen will wait till the morning of the match, to assess Balwant’s situation, before taking the call.

However, Mohun Bagan have a lot of firepower up front this season, and replacing the Punjabi forward may not be that big a problem, as they have an in-form Jeje Lalpekhlua to fill in that position, and take the Derby day by storm. The 25-year-old has had a brilliant Indian Super League (ISL) campaign with eventual champions Chennaiyin FC, and also had a good time with the Indian national team at the 2015 SAFF Championship. Jeje was the joint top-scorer (three goals) for the Indians with Sunil Chhetri. Sanjoy Sen prefers the 4-4-2 formation, and his team is set up around striker Cornell Glen, who has been on fire so far this season. The Trinidad & Tobago international currently leads the goalscoring charts with three goals from two games. East Bengal would have to prepare will for the threat that Geln poses, especially with a flurry of crosses coming in from the flanks.

With Norde returning to the squad, it seems that the Haitian will find his place straight back into the left wing, as he would be looking to cut in and take the shots, or link-up with Jeje or Glen, for more intricate play. The 19-year-old Azharuddin Mallick is set to get another chance on the right flank, as all the teams are bound to play one under-22 player in  their squad. Mallick has had a memorable first two games of the season so far, even getting a start in the last match against Salgaocar. He churned out a good performance in the match, and that could be enough to convince coach Sen of the teenager’s quality. Mohun Bagan’s Japanese star Katsumi Yusa played on the left wing last time round, but is set to be slotted back into the midfield alongside Pronay Halder, who is turning out to be a real hardworking asset in the Mariners’ camp. Halder’s box-to-box play was crucial in the big win against  Salgaocar, and the combination of his workrate and Katsumi’s creativity could work out well for Mohun Bagan.

Dhanachandra' s long thrown ins will be a source of Mohun Bagan attacks

Dhanachandra’ s long thrown ins will be a source of Mohun Bagan attacks

Mohun Bagan has faced a few problems at the back (especially in the second half), but Sen would be hoping that it is just a case of his defenders developing a good understanding with each other. This is why he is set to play an unchanged back-four in the game, with Kingshuk Debnath and Luciano Sabrosa playing as centrebacks, with Dhanachandra Singh and Pritam Kotal flanking them. Debjit Majumder produced a convincing performance in front of goal, marshalling his defence well in the match against Salgaocar, and may get the nod ahead of club captain Shilton Paul in the game. The defensive positions would be crucial in this game, as Mohun Bagan would be facing the added threat of Do Dong-hyun from the set pieces.

Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Debjit; Dhana, Kingshuk, Luciano, Kotal; Norde, Katsumi, Pronay, Azharuddin Mallick; Jeje, Glen.

3

East Bengal FC

The Red and Gold brigade would be reminding their old foes about the 4-0 thrashing that was handed out to the latter in their Calcutta Football League match between the two teams, that was held earlier this season. However, the I-League is a completely different proposition, and Mohun Bagan are a completely different side right now, with a lot of attacking potential. While East Bengal have to be careful about Mohun Bagan’s attack, they themselves are expected to keep most of the ball, with more men in the midfield region. Coach Biswajit Bhattacharya is more likely with the 4-4-1-1, or the 4-2-3-1 formation as a variation, in order to gain domination in the midfield region.

The biggest news for East Bengal however is that their recent big acquisition Bernard Mendy is yet to get his work VISA in India, and is set to miss this crucial tie against their bitter rivals. Arnab Mondal and Bello Rasaq are set to take up their responsibilities in defence while Mendy gets his papers sorted. Robert Lalthlamuana and Samad Ali Mallick are set to play as fullbacks, with the latter making the cut in the under-22 quota.

East Bengal’s Chandigarh player Sehnaj Singh is injured and Harmanjot Khabra and Mehtab Hossein are set to partner-up as the two midfield pivots. Khabra missed the practice session on Thursday due to a minor injury, but he is expected to start the game. The combination of Bikash Jairu, Do Dong, and Sanju Pradhan are set to take up their positions behind lone striker Ranti Martins, and would be looking to feed the Nigerian forward with through balls. Martins himself has evolved into a more mature striker of late, as he has started to drop down and help out the midfielders in their defensive responsibilities.

Do Dong will play a key role playing behind Ranti Martins

Do Dong will play a key role playing behind Ranti Martins

Do Dong has has been carrying a niggling injury, and was taken off by coach Bhattacharya during training, to avoid further aggravating his injury on what he call as a very hard pitch at the East Bengal tent. The South Korean playmaker would be the main creative force behind East Bengal’s attacks. One big advantage that East Bengal would have over Mohun Bagan is the set piece situations, with Do Dong’s mastery of the curling ball. The Lal Holud side would be looking to win fouls in and around the penalty area, to allow their 22-year-old South Korean player weave his dead ball magic around the Mohun Bagan wall.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Rehenesh; Robert, Rasaq, Arnab, Samad; Khabra, Mehtab; Jairu, Do dong, Sanju; Martins.

Player to watch out for

Do Dong-hyun (East Bengal FC)

Quite clearly, the greatest threat posed to the Mohun Bagan goal right now, comes from the feet of Do Dong. The south Korean’s dead ball abilities are just phenomenal, and he could land the Green and Maroons a succer punch from one of his curling freekicks from close range. Dong is also expected to dictate the play from an advanced midfield role, with East Bengal keeping the majority of the position.

Dhanachandra Singh (Mohun Bagan AC)

The 28-year-old fullback from Manipur has had a great season, winning the ISL with Chennaiyin FC. Dhana, as he is more commonly known, likes to bomb down the flanks, but will have to be watchful over the likes of Pradhan, Dong, and Jairu. However, the biggest threat that Dhana possesses, are from his amazing long throws. With the accuracy and the distance he can generate on the throw-ins, Mohun Bagan can actually treat them like set pieces, giving them an added advantage. It is of course no secret that most of his throws are bound to be aimed at striker Glen.

Prediction

Mohun Bagan AC 3-2 East Bengal FC

We can expect yet another classic battle between the two arch rivals, as they go head to head against each other. While East Bengal are expected to hog the bulk of the possession, Mohun Bagan are more than capable of landing the knockout punch on the counter attack. Bagan look the stronger side as of now, but their defensive issues are yet to be sorted out, and the likes of Dong and Martins could give Sen a lot of headaches. However, Mohun Bagan’s attacking line seems to be strong enough to carry them through.

Image Courtesy: AIFF Media