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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

East Bengal, Mohun Bagan ready for possibly I-League’s last Kolkata derby

Mohun Bagan will look to avenge their last month’s defeat and at the same time derail East Bengal title hopes in the return leg derby at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Sunday.

football Updated: Jan 26, 2019 23:40 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Laldanmawia of East Bengal trying to stop Dicka of Mohun Bagan.
Laldanmawia of East Bengal trying to stop Dicka of Mohun Bagan.(Arijit Sen/HT Photo)
         

Even though there’s near-zero visibility on the road ahead, it is possible that Sunday’s East Bengal-Mohun Bagan contest will be the last of the I-League Kolkata derbies. That’s because both teams are said to have a foot in Indian Super League (ISL).

Should this really be it, the teams will hope that the presence of key attacking players will add fluency to campaigns that have been flagging. So step forward internationals Sony Norde and Enrique Esqueda.

Both missed the December 16 derby with injuries but while East Bengal forward Esqueda, who has represented Mexico nine times, hasn’t played since December 8, wide left Norde started three games going into this tie.

This will be Esqueda’s derby debut should East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez give him some game time. Haiti international Norde has played seven derbies but scored only once. Crucially, Norde also hasn’t lost a match against East Bengal. Asked about the kind of impact Norde could have, Menedez said: “We will see on Sunday.”

For all the passion around this match --- hosts Mohun Bagan are confident the turnout would match 64,867 East Bengal got on December 16 when they won 3-2; tickets priced Rs 150 were sold out at the club on Friday morning ---- it needs to be pointed out that both are far from leaders Chennai City FC.

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On 22 points from 12 rounds, East Bengal are eight adrift with a game in hand. That is exactly where they were when the Kolkata giants met in the first leg. Mohun Bagan are now nine shy after 13 games. Between then and now, Mohun Bagan have also had Khalid Jamil replacing head coach Sankarlal Chakraborty.

So it fit when Jamil said sotto voce that “we need a positive result.” Anything less than a win for either could effectively snuff out title-hopes.

They go into the game on the back of unconvincing 1-0 wins, East Bengal beating Indian Arrows and Mohun Bagan defeating Neroca. Mohun Bagan last played on January 12 and Jamil said he used the time to ensure everyone was fit and fresh. East Bengal’s last round was on January 18 and though Menendez said it was to keep the players focused, they would have also used the closed-door sessions to find a solution to suspended left-back Manoj Mohammad.

Given that there has to be an under-22 player in the starting line-up, East Bengal’s options are midfielders Prakash Sarkar and Kamalpreet Singh. “Manoj has played all the games but we have a good squad,” said Menedez.

Also making the plotline different from last time is the growing influence of Antonio Dovale in East Bengal’s midfield. How Mohun Bagan cope with Dovale and the foreigners they choose from among Yuta Kinowaki, Omar Elhussieny, Henry Kisekka and Dipanda Dicka to join Norde could be crucial to the outcome. “This match will be decided on small details,” said Menendez.