Mohun Bagan under pressure as East Bengal eyes Kolkata derby triple

The Maidan heavyweights missed out on a dream date in the Durand Cup summit clash here last week after East Bengal made a semifinal exit. They now get ready to resume their old rivalry in the season’s first derby.

Joseba Beitia's partnership with Salva Chamorro and VP Suhair will be crucial for Mohun Bagan.   -  RAJEEV BHATT

A rejuvenated Mohun Bagan will be looking to recover the ground it lost in the last few engagements against traditional rival East Bengal when the two square up in the season’s first Kolkata derby in the Calcutta Football league (CFL) premier division ‘A’ fixture at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

READ| Kolkata Derby: Five most notable encounters between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal

Having lost two (I-league) and drawn other one (CFL) in the three meetings last season, Mohun Bagan is seeking to end the barren patch under the new Spanish coach Kibu Vicuna. This lends a fresh angle to the old rivalry which has entered the 94th year of its existence. The organiser, Indian Football Association, is confident that the 368th meeting between the two rivals will be a full house affair with tickets sales (in the 64,000 capacity stadium) nearly hitting the saturation point.

With Vicuna’s compatriot Alejandro Menendez helming East Bengal since the last season and a number of Spanish players filling up the ranks in both sides, the Kolkata Derby has gained a Hispanic tinge. This aspect seems to have heightened the tempo ahead of the contest as the fans on either side debate whether Salva Chamorro in Mohun Bagan attack or the East Bengal forward Jaime Santos Colado who will determine the result on Sunday.

East Bengal crashed out in the semifinals of the Durand Cup after a penalty-shootout loss to eventual champion Gokulam Kerala.   -  Twitter/@eastbengalfc

With the season still in its nascent stage, both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan show a ledger that balances gains and losses in an almost equal measure. Appearing in the season’s first tournament, the Durand Cup, East Bengal bowed out in the semifinals before Mohun Bagan conceded defeat to the same side that defeated its city rival, Gokulam Kerala FC, in the title clash. The two sides started off with a defeat in their CFL engagements but East Bengal seemed to have stabilised better by winning its next two outings. On the other hand, Mohun Bagan has managed just a win in its three matches so far putting Vicuna’s men under pressure.

READ| The Kolkata Derby: Stats add intrigue to the Bagan-EB rivalry

“What happened in the past does not give the advantage to any side. The game is played and decided in 90 minutes on the field and we have to play to win,” said Menendez, who did not wish to be called the favourite ahead of the match. “We play 11 against 11. They have a good team and so have we. They play to their strong points and we play to ours,” Vicuna said.

Despite being good in the creative front, Vicuna’s main concern has been the defence as his team conceded goals in six of the eight matches it has played so far. With Joseba Beitia, Nongdamba Naorem and Chamorro making good starts, and Fran Gonzalez and V.P. Suhair chipping in well as substitutes in Durand Cup, Mohun Bagan seems to have sorted out key slots in middle and upfront of the park. “We are improving physically with every match and looking to do better than what we did in the last match,” said Vicuna, trying to instill confidence in his side.

Menendez, who coached East Bengal to the I-League runner-up spot last season, has given a cohesive look to the side. With the likes of Jaime Santos, Bidyasagar Singh, Kassim Aidara (France), Pintu Mahata and Boithang Haokip doing well in the midfield and attack, the Red and Golds also have a good defence where Spaniards Marti Crespi and Borja Gomez Perez have played key roles.

The back-line also has the likes of Mehtab Singh and Samad Ali Mallick, who have earned appreciation for their performances. “It (the match) is a very important game for our fans, officials and the players. We will try and get three points to keep the faith of the supporters on the team,” Menendez said, hinting at need to win the faith of the fans back after the team’s semifinal exit in Durand Cup.

The IFA made a big announcement towards spectator security brining everyone attending the match under insurance cover.

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