I-League: East Bengal keen to keep its I-League title hopes alive

East Bengal blanked Mohun Bagan 2-0 in its last outing on January 27 to capture both the derby legs of this season for the first time in 15 years.

East Bengal will start with psychological advantage on Thursday having defeated Neroca by an identical margin at the start of the season.   -  AIFF Media

Buoyed by its derby win over city rival Mohun Bagan, East Bengal would look to do a double on Neroca FC and stay in contention for I-League title in a crucial match at the Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday.

East Bengal blanked Mohun Bagan 2-0 in its last outing on January 27 to capture both the derby legs of this season for the first time in 15 years.

Having defeated the Imphal outfit by an identical margin at the start of the season way back in October last year, East Bengal will start with psychological advantage on Thursday.

East Bengal have 25 points from 13 matches and another win by the side would narrow the gap at the top of the table. Neroca’s title chances have receded as it has 25 points from 15 matches.

The Kolkata heavyweight will hit the road next to face title contender Real Kashmir within three days as it has a tight schedule, playing four of its last six matches in 10 days.

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Terming it a “tough situation”, East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez criticised the scheduling.

“Not a good schedule for the I-league. If the league wants to grow big they need to see these things. When you play so many matches in less time it is bound to affect the performance of the teams,” the Spaniard told reporters on the match-eve press conference.

“From now all of the matches will be very difficult. Neroca are a very good side. It is a new match and we need three points to continue to remain in the title race. We are taking match by match. We will see what happens in the next games. For now focus is on tomorrow’s game.”

Enrique Esqueda struck a brace in East Bengal's first leg win at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal and the Mexican will look to do an encore for East Bengal against the last season’s runner-up once again.

The East Bengal coach further said all the players, including defenders Lalram Chullova and Johnny Acosta, were fit and available for Thursday’s match.

Having recovered from a rib injury, Esqueda started from the bench and played 11 minutes against Mohun Bagan and he would look to start against the Imphal outfit.

“In the first match they had Esqueda. Now some more good players like Justin, Dovale, Colado. We cannot afford to make a mistake. One mistake from us and they will score. We saw the same against Mohun Bagan,” Neroca coach Manuel Retamero said.

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Having bolstered its forward by roping in Chencho Gyeltshen on loan from Indian Super League franchise Bengaluru FC, Neroca will hope the Bhutanese striker to step up with its key man Felix Chidi looking lacklustre up front.

“Chencho must adjust to our style and try and score goals. Hopefully he will replicate what he did in his last club’s. Katsumi (Yusa) is also there. We have 11 players. The balance is important. We have to play as a team,” Retamero said.

Yusa scored a brace to help Neroca beat Indian Arrows 3-2 in its previous outing in Bhubaneswar and the Japanese will look to prove a point against his former side.

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