The City of Joy will witness to another emotional upheaval on Sunday when East Bengal and Mohun Bagan lock horns in the penultimate I-League derby between the traditional footballing giants at the Salt Lake Stadium.
Mohun Bagan, who recently merged with Kolkata-based ISL club ATK to form a new club with them, are the major talking point of Indian football at the moment. This will be the last derby Mohun Bagan will be hosting before changing themselves to ATK-Mohun Bagan next season.
After being a vocal face in the I-League clubs’ demand for a single league and leading them against the AIFF’s decision to make ISL the top-tier league of the country, Mohun Bagan joining forces with an ISL club has been a heartbreaking moment for a large section of Bengali football fans, including Bagan’s own supporters. Thus one can expect today’s encounter to be the most charged-up derbies fo recent times.
However, all the off-field dramas will hold no meaning when the players take to the pitch of the Salt Lake Stadium. Going by the current form, the Green and Maroon brigade will have the upper hand. So far, Mohun Bagan have scored the most number of goals in the season and conceded the least.
But the derbies, especially the one in Kolkata, has always been played on equal footing with no relevance of stats, numbers and forms on the playing day as the team which handle the pressure the best emerge on top.
“I think every derby is a special game. The dynamics of both teams are very different, but when a derby arrives, everything is more equal,” Mohun Bagan coach Kibu Vicuna was quoted as saying by PTI.
After East Bengal began the season on an unbeaten note and Mohun Bagan lackadaisically, the tables have turned as the latter is now the table-toppers and two consecutive defeats have forced East Bengal down to fifth.
Subho Ghosh of Bagan with three goals is now the leading scorer in the league. Noongadamba Naorem is also stepping up big time. For East Bengal, much will depend on how their flamboyant midfield duo of Juan Mera and Jamie Colado. But the Mariners have also got their own firepower for the middle with Fran Gonzalez, Sheikh Sahil and Joseba Beitia.
But East Bengal head coach Alejandro Menendez remains optimistic for a positive result. He said, “I have full confidence in my squad. In these kinds of games, what has happened before isn’t crucial. How the teams arrive at the derby, doesn’t predict what will happen in the derby. We have had some issues along the season, injuries being one of them, but we are still confident. On Sunday, we are going to fight.”