The 2015/16 edition of the I-League is nearing the halfway stage and if early trends are any indication then it is likely to be a three way battle between East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC. The Lal-Hould brigade after a rather slow start have now won three of their last four matches and are slowly coming into their groove and will be fancying their chances to win the I-League crown.

Ranti Martins has been the best player for East Bengal so far and has led the attack admirably for East Bengal, specially given the fact that South Korean Do Dong-hyun has been in patchy form. The Nigerian striker showed his class in the last match against Shillong Lajong where he notched up a hat-trick – the first of the 2015/16 I League season.

While he scored his second goal from a long range shot from outside the box, he dummied past the Lajong defender and the custodian for his third. Martins has worked hard for the team’ s cause and has been seen dropping deep to create chances for the team. His contribution can be judged from the fact that he has played ninety minutes in all the seven matches and has scored 7 of the eleven goals his team has scored this season.

A big positive for Biswajit Bhattacharjee’s s side has been the performance of Bikas Jairu, who is playing his first season for the Lal-Hould brigade. The 25 year old Indian international who grew in confidence in the 2015 SAFF Championships has been a livewire down the left flank for East Bengal and his crosses have been a main source of attack for the club.

It is no surprise that most of the East Bengal’ s attacks have come down the left flank. The Jairu-Martins combination has worked well for East Bengal and Jairu has scored three goals so far which means that the the combination of Jairu and Martins have scored 10 of the 11 goals for the Lal-Hould brigade.

East Bengal however have failed to find similar joy down the right flank where they have tried the likes of Sanju Pradhan, Shylo Malsawmtluanga and Abinass Ruidas. This is one area coach  Biswajit Bhattacharjee will be looking to resolve as the league reaches its midway mark.

Another positive development in the last couple of matches has been the addition of  former French defender Bernard Mendy to the team. The ISL winner with Chennaiyin FC brings with him the experience of playing in the French League with PSG and will be a vital player in the team’ s setup.

Mendy had a memorable first match for East Bengal and scored his team’ s second goal much to the delight of the fans. Mendy has started in a central midfielder role along Mehtab in both the matches and this is where the Chennaiyin defender is likely to be used by Biswajit Bhattacharjee. His presence will allow the likes of Mehtab Hossain and Mohammed Rafique to roam freely in the centre of the park and this was precisely the case in 4-0 win over Lajong.

A major worry for East Bengal and their coach Biswajit Bhattacharya is the patchy form of their South Korean midfielder Do Dong-hyun. The diminutive forward was in exceptional form in the Calcutta Football League, where he became the darling of the East Bengal faithfuls with a string of impressive performances.

The South Korean however has found the going tough and has been easily dispossessed by the opposition defenders. Dong has been deployed as a striker, as a withdrawn striker and even on the right wing but has failed to make an impact and hasn’t contributed anything noteworthy to his team’ s attack.

The forward showed his frustration after being substituted in the win over Aizawl FC and was subsequently fined for indiscipline. He was dropped from the starting eleven in the win over Shillong Lajong and only came on as a second half substitute. With 7 of the 16 matches already played, Do Dong needs to find his form soon and play a greater role in team’ s performances.

East Bengal have been one on the most consistent team in the I-League, but have never managed to win the title. The Lal-Hould brigade have finished runners-up in three of their last five seasons and would be looking to win this season. Both of East Bengal’ s title rivals – Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC have to play AFC Cup matches in addition to the I-League, which will add to their fixture congestion.

This will no doubt work to East Bengal’ a advantage. The Lal-Hould also have depth in their squad with the likes of Harmanjot Khabra, Cavin Lobo, Sehnaj Singh, Robert Lalthlamuana and Narayan Das missing from the starting lineup in their last match.

This depth in the squad will no doubt come in handy as the business end of the league approaches. The Red and Gold brigade now face Salgaocar in their next match and Biswajit Bhattacharjee would be hoping to win the match against the Goan Greens and leapfrog Bengaluru FC to the the second spot in the table as the league approaches its halfway stage.

Image Courtesy: I-League Media

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