Mohun Bagan Super Giant will kick off its title defence by taking on the newly promoted Punjab FC, in an Indian Super League (ISL) 10 fixture at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.
The second match of the weekend double-header is expected to see a good contest as Punjab, the I-League champion, will be looking to do something extraordinary on its debut against the defending champion and one of the most expensive teams in the tournament.
The stakes are reasonably high for Mohun Bagan which picked up some prominent Indian players in the pre-season shopping to secure a star-studded squad. This was done with the hope of becoming the first team to retain the crown.
With the likes of Sahal Abdul Samad, Anirudh Thapa and Anwar Ali joining Mohun Bagan, the green and maroon side won the Durand Cup and then continued its good form in the AFC Cup play-offs and the group league stage.
The home favourite will be eager to make a positive start but will have to find a couple of good replacements as it will be missing the services of Thapa and Ashique Kuruniyan. The first will be out owing to the red card he received in the Durand Cup final while the latter is ruled out for the season with an ACL injury.
The host has good depth in the squad, according to head coach Juan Ferrando. “It is a new tournament and we start the season at home and that is important. Punjab is a good team and is the I-league champion but we would have to keep our focus and play to our plan to pick up three points,” he said.
“I am very happy with the team. And would not change the plan as we have other players to play in the position of the players we are missing tomorrow. It is a long season and we will have to deal with injuries and suspensions,” Ferrando added.
With its Slovenian forward Luka Majcen in good form, Punjab FC will be hoping to bring together the side to start from where it left off after securing the I-League crown and progressing to the ISL.
“I wish this will be a season where we raise Indian football a few steps higher with our performance. Regarding our game, it has been more than a month since the first game of the Durand Cup when we faced Mohun Bagan.
“That time, we had only two weeks of preparation. A lot of things have changed as we have had more weeks of preparation. I feel both the teams will be in a better condition, which means it will be a great match,” Punjab FC head coach Staikos Vergatis said about his side, which lost 0-2 against Mohun Bagan in the Durand Cup group league stage in the first week of August.
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