KOLKATA: East Bengal will lock horns with their crosstown rivals Mohun Bagan in a massive I-League 2017/18 fixture at the Saltlake Stadium on Sunday.
The clash promises to be an intense battle and considering the contrasting fortunes which both clubs have experienced in recent times, a win in Kolkata derby would be a massive boost for either.
It may not be a season-defining game but would certainly provide a welcome injection to two teams who have lost some of their swagger and self-belief and have failed to consistently fire on all cylinders this season.
East Bengal are currently in third place on the league table, and know that victory will see them narrow the gap between themselves and leaders Minerva Punjab, while Mohun Bagan currently sitting 6th on the log and maximum points are much-needed in Kolkata derby to get their campaign back on track.
Heading into this encounter as the home team, East Bengal look to be the favourites, yet have waned somewhat following their rip-roaring start to the season, being brought down to earth with consecutive draws against bottom-placed Churchill Brothers and Aizawl FC.
Coach Khalid Jamil might not have got the results he wanted in the last two outings, but the Mumbaiker is confident that East Bengal are on the right path.
However, he is aware that they won’t be helping their cause by making careless mistakes in defense or missing chances up front.
Mohun Bagan on the other have experienced a nightmarish campaign since their 1-0 win over East Bengal in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
The Mariners have only won twice in their last eight fixtures including three consecutive draws at home. The poor run of form saw them part ways with long serving coach Sanjoy Sen, replacing him with Sankarlal Chakraborty.
Nonetheless, the world over, derbies are never won on the form book as stakes are high for both teams, and even out-of-form teams tend to rise to the occasion.
East Bengal have recently reinforced their forward-line with the signing of Dudu Omagbemi. The Nigerian is no stranger to the Kolkata derby and could be vitally important in coach Khalid’s game plan and could potentially form a lethal attacking partnership with Willis Plaza, if the later is fit to start.
Mohun Bagan too have bolstered their attacking department adequately, and it remains to be seen whether or not coach Sankarlal opts to give Lebanese striker Akram Moghrabi a run.
The forward is seen as one of Lebanon’s brightest attacking talents and should he be unleashed against East Bengal, fireworks should be expected. Akram along with Aser Dipanda Dicka could pose many questions for an East Bengal defense, that has conceded most number of goals among the top four teams on the log.
We know that both teams are equally capable of turning up the pressure and dishing out the style when called upon. The question is: Will they? It is likely to be a cagey affair because of the reserved nature of the defenses in question, and the side that decides to take a gamble could very well seize the advantage. Fortune favours the brave, after all.