I-League:Table-topper Bengaluru hosts East Bengal

On paper, the I-League title is Bengaluru FC’s to lose. Regardless of results elsewhere, it needs two wins and a draw from three remaining matches to claim the trophy.

“It’s not vital to win to be quite honest. What’s important is that we don’t lose. We are two points in front. It’s not a do-or-die game," quipped Bengaluru coach Ashley Westwood.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

On paper, the I-League title is Bengaluru FC’s to lose. Regardless of results elsewhere, it needs two wins and a draw from three remaining matches to claim the trophy. But rarely is it as straightforward, and when two of those opponents happen to be East Bengal and Mohun Bagan – its fellow-contenders – it is indeed not.

“It’s not vital to win to be quite honest,” opined Bengaluru’s coach Ashley Westwood ahead of Sunday’s clash against East Bengal at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. “What’s important is that we don’t lose. We are two points in front. It’s not a do-or-die game.

“But we will be going out to win the game like we do always. We have beaten them away. We will try and put in a good performance to back it up. We have the best form in the league. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be confident.”

However, Bengaluru will have to accomplish that without the suspended centre-back John Johnson, who has been quite a rock at the back having started all 13 games so far and being substituted in just one.

“John has been quite influential,” said Westwood. “But we have played without him before. If you notice, we have not put out the same team twice. We rotate and chop and change. Its something we will deal with and not a problem.”

East Bengal too will miss its talismanic defender in Arnab Mondal, who has been suspended for two matches after being charged for ‘aggressive / abusive behaviour’ in the derby against Bagan. In spite of the morale-boosting derby win, the side’s has been unable to hit a sustained patch of good form giving the unit a rather unsettled look.

“After the Calcutta league, we didn’t get enough recovery period,” said coach Biswajit Bhattacharya. “Players went to the ISL. Three or four major players took time to be fit. Now the players are practising and playing well. At times we haven’t played well but we have belief.”

“Both teams are equally good. When we played them at home, we played well but missed a lot of chances. So I hope the boys are very serious this time because we are in the run [title run-in].”