Kolkata Derby: Upbeat Mohun Bagan takes on traditional rival East Bengal

Traditional rivals look at contrasting graphs ahead of crucial I-League meeting on Sunday.

The traditional rivals figured in a goalless affair in their meeting in the first phase of the tournament at the same venue on February 12 making the return engagement a must-win affair.   -  Special arrangement

The oldest rivals of Indian football – Mohun Bagan and East Bengal – look at differing performance graphs when the two relive their on-field hostility in an I-League fixture here at the Kanchenjungha Stadium on Sunday evening.

The alignment, ahead of the continent’s oldest football ‘Derby’, sets Mohun Bagan slightly ahead on form as it sought to continue the momentum gained with a 3-0 win over defending champion Bengaluru FC in its previous outing (on April 1). In contrast, East Bengal finds itself on a sticky turf having lost back-to-back matches in its two earlier matches.

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The traditional rivals figured in a goalless affair in their meeting in the first phase of the tournament at the same venue on February 12 making the return engagement a must-win affair.

East Bengal is placed second with 27 points from 14 matches, while Mohun Bagan is third with 26 points from 13 matches. A draw would help neither of the two opponents as the current league leader, Aizawl FC (30 points from 14 matches), would be getting a chance to extend its lead to a greater degree.

READ: The five most notable Kolkata-derby encounters

What makes the second Kolkata ‘Derby’ of I-League season even more interesting is the way both the sides drifted off course after making a brilliant start. Both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal remained unbeaten in their first nine outings from where they collected 21 points (from six wins and three draws) each. Things went differently thereafter as East Bengal lost three and won two in the next five outings, while for Mohun Bagan it was a shade better as it lost once (the only loss it has encountered in the tournament so far) and drew twice before returning to winning form against Bengaluru on the first day of this month.

READ: Bengaluru FC takes on table-topper Aizawl FC

Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen will be taking inspiration from this slight edge in the performance graph of his side when he goes to plan the strategy ahead for the ‘big’ encounter. If Sen chooses to retain the side that won against Bengaluru, there will be no change in the attack formation with Scotsman Darryl Duffy in the lead, while the combination of Japanese Katsumi Yusa and Haitian Sony Norde will be propping up the assault from the wings. Bagan also has the two Indian strikers Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua to look at if Sen sees the needs to change the attack strategy.

East Bengal has some uncertainty in the attack especially with Haitian Wedson Anselme and Indian Robin Singh appearing doubtful starters ahead of the match. East Bengal’s English coach Trevor Morgan will have some equations to work out in absence of the two and will depend on Trinidad and Tobago’s Willis Plaza and Australian Christopher Payne in the formation. Given the strengths in the two sides, the ‘Derby’ has always been a battle of nerves and the team managing the pressure better will walk away as the winner.

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