The stage is set for the most intensely rivalled fixture of Indian football as Mohun Bagan Super Giant takes on Emami East Bengal in the first meeting of the new season, which will happen in the Durand Cup group-A league at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.
The more than a century-old rivalry will have Mohun Bagan as the favourite. The current Indian Super League champion has turned out the winner in the last eight derby meetings (since January 2020) across tournaments.
With the demand for the tickets indicating another packed turnout at the giant venue of their fabled contest, Mohun Bagan coach Juan Ferrando will be under pressure to keep the momentum and extend the team’s winning run to a record ninth match.
For East Bengal’s new coach, Carles Cuadrat, this will be the occasion to seek redemption by ending the procession of losses. In the overall head-to-head count East Bengal is slightly ahead having won 132 times against Mohun Bagan’s 127. The remaining 116 meetings ended in a draw.
Mohun Bagan is currently leading the group-A standings having convincingly beaten Bangladesh Army and the I-League champion Roundglass Punjab FC in its previous two outings. It now needs a draw to secure the top spot and move into the quarterfinals.
But this logic would not be applicable in the match against East Bengal as nothing but a win would satisfy its supporters. East Bengal is on one point after playing out a 2-2 draw against Bangladesh Army and needs two subsequent wins to edge past its traditional rival and make it to the top of the group league standings.
“Football is about emotions and feelings are a very important part of the game. We are still in the pre-season training and will assess the fitness and condition of the players before finalizing the team,” Ferrando said on the eve of the match. The Spanish manager of Mohun Bagan started by fielding only the youth team players in the first match before introducing some from the senior team in the second outing against Punjab FC.
“It will be a different match. The last match is past and we will have to focus on the present. We will have to win three points and move to the next round,” said Ferrando, who did not wish to dwell on his team’s successful outings in the recent Derby meetings.
The challenge for Ferrando will be having the best selection of players as Mohun Bagan kick-starts its AFC Cup campaign on August 16 at the same venue. “AFC Cup is important as it is an international competition and we will have to get the players ready from the pre-season and get the best team for that match,” Ferrando said.
While Ferrando will be looking at having a successful outfit under his command, Cuadrat needs to spark a revival with a new set of players joining East Bengal just ahead of the season. “You have to look at the fact that there are only two players in the side from the previous season. It is still too early for most of the players who started the pre-season barely three weeks ago. We have a lot of good players and will have to come on the pitch with a lot of energy and try to stop them,” Cuadrat said about his team’s approach.
Cuadrat has been able to see his players for only one match before facing the challenge of playing the derby early in the season. The team is missing the services of its Brazilian forward Cleiton Silva who is set to arrive just hours before the match and is likely to miss the action.
Cuadrat will have to rely a lot on the abilities of Mandar Rao Desai, Naorem Mahesh Singh and Nandha Kumar and hope that his foreigners like Saul Crespo and Javier Silverio can bring up their best to take the attack into the Mohun Bagan territory.
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