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Kolkata Derby Special : Can Mohun Bagan's Dwindling Midfield Withstand East Bengal's Storm?

Friday, 10 February 2017|Rohit Ganguly
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A very famous adage in football states that “Winning the Midfield Wins You the Game”. With few exceptions, this saying has been justified time and over around the world. The implication of a dominant midfield in the I-League has also witnessed many victories, once again proving that the ‘adage’ holds true to our league as well.

With the illustrious Calcutta Derby just a day away, which will be the 346th time East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will be crossing swords, the encounter in Siliguri promises to be another exciting affair.

It is going to be a battle of wits as two tactical giants, Sanjoy Sen and Trevor James Morgan, are going to lock horns in a mouth-watering clash. Both of them are going to egg each one’s outfits to peg their opponents back.

East Bengal are currently positioned at the top with 19 points while Mohun Bagan are three points adrift of the Red and Golds but with a game played less. Hence, the encounter is another 6-pointer battle. 

Mohun Bagan started the league with a bang, making a statement that they are into the 2016-17 season for the title. But the last couple of rounds have revealed that there midfield can be exploited if planned properly. That’s exactly what DSK Shivajians and Aizawl FC did. Sanjoy and Co. played out a goalless draw with DSK Shivajians while Darryl Duffy needed a penalty to salvage a hard fought 3-2 win over Aizawl FC in the last round.

Khalid Jamil team’s iterated dominance of the game exposed the skeleton of the Bagan defence. The reason being that there was a huge void in front of the last four and Aizawl FC took advantage of that, invading the Mariner’s citadel with no resistance.

Bikramjit Singh and Sehnaj Singh, who were deployed as defensive screens, fell short of their usual self. They were caught napping many times and hardly came up with any challenge to deny the Aizawl FC attackers an easy way into their box. Snatching in the defensive third was clearly invisible. 

The Mariner’s below-par defensive midfield was exposed to the extent that Yusa Katsumi had to drop back time and again to snatch and fend for the balls to initiate attacks. Luckily, he won a penalty in the dying minutes of the game which Duffy converted with conviction. But had Aizawl FC been a bit more experienced side with a strong attack, Bagan would have suffered an embarrassing moment.

But with the next opponent being East Bengal, who have shown their attacking powers this season under their most trusted man Trevor Morgan, Mohun Bagan are not going to have it easy.

East Bengal sport the likes of Wedson Anselme, Willis Plaza and Lalrindika Ralte in their ranks, who are known for their breakneck speed and wiliness. Little space accorded to them could turn out to be a living nightmare for the opponents.

Wedson Anselme’s deft touches and creativity in the midfield helps the team to open up a lot more space up front for Willis Plaza and Robin Singh to exploit. To thwart Wedson, Sanjoy Sen would need a player who can chip in with tough tackles and stand tall to quell the creative Haitian’s effect. Pronay Halder could be a feasible option to pit against Wedson owing to his towering stature and physical style of play. Sen will probably hold the ace up his sleeves until the end about whom will he field in the derby.

Nikhil Poojari is known for his blitzkrieg runs down the center and the wings. The pace that he exudes is extremely hard to stymie. To deny him any glory, Sen will need someone who can bring his body into play. 

The most dynamic player of East Bengal at this point of time is their skipper Lalrindika Ralte. Ralte can run across the entire field and can whip in delightful long balls and even clinically precise short passes, that could catch Bagan defender’s off-guard anytime. To preclude him from notching up those deadly passes, Bagan will need to deploy their best man in the midfield. of their rearguard and a perfect connection between the defensive third and the midfield will be extremely imperative.

However, a glimmer of hope for Mohun Bagan midfield will be the return of their Haitian talisman, Sony Norde. Norde missed out the Aizawl match due to a hamstring injury. However, he marked his comeback with a stunner against Colombo FC in their return leg in AFC Cup qualifiers.

The addition of Norde will make the midfield a lot more disciplined and with a live-wire in Katsumi, things can definitely be categorical for Bagan. Sanjoy Sen’s major strategy to upstage East Bengal will be to introduce lightning-fast counter-attacks.

One of Bagan’s eminent facets in this edition of I-League has been immaculate long balls intended for Jeje and Duffy. The duo has done exceptionally well to address them into the net. On the contrary, with players like Bukenya and Gurwinder Singh in East Bengal’s ranks, playing long balls will be more of playing to the hands of East Bengal. Both these players have been stellar in the air and their positioning has given them an added advantage in waylaying the coups of their opponents.

At the other end, with players like Willis Plaza and Robin Singh, East Bengal will be famished giants with their fodder on the strings. Plaza’s adept receiving and perfect finishing make him a vicious player in the D-box. Even the smallest chances could end up costing Bagan big. Robin Singh is one of the most opportunist strikers in the side. A muff of the ball or a small fumble can go into the net as the India international is always ready to pounce on anything that comes his way.