I-League: Mohun Bagan hosts Bengaluru FC

Placed third on the table behind Aizawl FC (30 points off 14 matches) and East Bengal (27 off 14), Bagan, which has 23 points from six victories and five draws, has the advantage of playing just 12 matches.

Even though Bagan attacker Sony Norde has rejoined the squad, it remains to be seen whether he will make the start XI.   -  AIFF Media

Eyeing the Hero I-League title, Mohun Bagan will be keen to get back to winning ways following its first loss and two consecutive draws when it faces defending champion Bengaluru FC in its home engagement at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium here on Saturday.

Placed third on the table behind Aizawl FC (30 points off 14 matches) and East Bengal (27 off 14), Bagan, which has 23 points from six victories and five draws, has the advantage of playing just 12 matches.

The Bagan-Bengaluru meeting is happening after a break when players from both sides donned the National colours in a friendly against Cambodia and an AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualifier against Myanmar.

Seven of Bengaluru and three Mariners were part of the Indian side. That should provide the host more fresh legs.

Even though Bagan attacker Sony Norde has rejoined the squad, it remains to be seen whether he will make the start XI. The team will pin its hopes on finisher Daryl Duffy as Jeje Lalpekhlua does not seem to be in top form.

Bagan may miss the services of midfielders Pranoy Halder and Kean Lewis, who are recovering from injuries.

The re-scheduling of the match has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Mariners. Had it been held in its original slot, Bengaluru’s priorities would have been much different.

Bengaluru, which is fifth on 18 points from four wins, six draws and three defeats, is virtually out of the title race and will be more interested to do well in its away AFC Cup match against Maldives’ Maziya Sports & Recreation on Tuesday.

The biggest challenge for the Blues, which beat Bagan 2-1 in a continental fixture three days after their goalless draw on March 11, will be to balance between giving a good account of itself here and preserving its players for the Maldives match.

Full back Rino Anto’s is likely to be unavailable for Saturday’s encounter and that will shrink Bengaluru’s choices.

With the two sides competing with different targets in mind, the contest should provide some gripping action.

Different challenges for Sen and Roca

Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen asserted that his team would go for full points, while his Bengaluru FC counterpart Albert Roca admitted that his side would have a difficult task against the Mariners in their Hero I-League clash at the Rabindra Sarbar Stadium here on Saturday.

“No doubt it will be a tough match. We all know Bengaluru FC is a good side. It will be a test of character for my players,” said Sen on the eve of the encounter.

Sen said the defeat to the Blues in an AFC Cup match last month was a thing of past. “Any team can lose on a given day. There will be obstacles in a marathon league.”

On Bagan’s defence, which has conceded only eight goals in 12 matches, Sen said, “I have my strategy set for their players. We have a fair idea about their style of play. We have to play according to our plan.”

Asked about forward Sony Norde’s availability, Sen said the Haitian was tired after taking a long flight and “will be in my 18 member squad.”

Bengaluru FC coach Roca said Bagan would enjoy the advantage of sparing just three players for the recent India duty.

The Spaniard was worried about managing the side for two back-to-back engagements. “It is a little advantage to them. In four days we have an important (AFC Cup) match in Maldives. We will have to manage the situation and play with a team tomorrow that can win.

“They have to get three points and want to finish top. We are expecting a difficult game but we are current champions. We will try to do our best for our supporters and for the team. We have a lot of respect for Mohun Bagan and their history. But we have to be competitive,” said Roca.

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