I-League 2017: Bengaluru FC must reverse poor form against East Bengal to stay relevant in title race

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The Blues of Bengaluru will face East Bengal, whom they love to score against at home, with the overbearing pressure of staying in the title hunt...

The I-League's schedule and the clock of retribution will align perfectly on the evening of Saturday, 25th February, when Bengaluru FC welcome East Bengal for an I-League round 11 fixture, at the Sree Kanteerava stadium. 

This match means more than just three points to The Blues' coach Albert Roca, whose side is on the ropes with respect to form and are struggling to churn out much needed victories. The reigning domestic champions currently sit fifth in the league and EIGHT points behind their guests to the Garden city - albeit with the advantage of a game in hand. 

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The strong undercurrents that tug the extremes of this tie will be of paramount importance as well, considering both teams have most than just the points on offer to lose. 

The Southern Eagles have gone winless for a record six I-League matches. The reason this tie will be playing more on coach Roca's mind is the impact their opposition had on his side's poor showing mid-way into the 2017 I-League season. 

Rewind the calendar to just a month earlier, and it was defeat to The Red and Golds that actually started a cascading downfall for the two-time league champions. It was a defeat that seemed unbinding at first, but it left a deep gash on the psyche of the players and coach. Over the last month, they have failed to replicate form nowhere close to their imperious best as was witnessed in the first three games of the campaign. 

Defeat to Churchill Brothers and close shaves against DSK Shivajians, Aizawl FC alongside a frustrating dead rubber versus Minerva Punjab have impeded the Jindal Steel Works (JSW) owned team's momentum significantly and they now fight to stay relevant in an increasingly three-horse title race - East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC.

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The tie against the present leaders offers The Blues a chance to correct earlier pitfalls and virtually start anew, getting their season back on track with a much needed win. They will be buoyed by their home form against the Lal Holud, against whom they've scored six and conceded just one in their previous two ties. 

Besides these, Bengaluru will also have an eye firmly fixed on 2015 league champions Mohun Bagan, who have a game in hand over their fierce rivals from Kolkata. Bagan sit eight points clear of the 2014 Federation Cup champions, level on games played. If neither of East Bengal or Bengaluru FC win and provided they maximize their results, The Mariners could sail clear of the duo in two weeks time. 

Roca will also have his eyes peeled to counter Morgan's tactical flexibility. In their last bout, Morgan's second half substitutions allowed East Bengal to exploit critical weaknesses of his side's defence and the Spanish coach will be eager to flex his tactical grey cells to ensure the tables are turned this time around.

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Morgan's side will also be at a disadvantage considering they have no clue about The Blues' latest foreign striking recruit, having sent out Roby Norales to Ozone FC on loan. 

The Blues will go into the tie feeling they must go for the jugular. In the last three ties, they have conceded two goals, while the seven consecutive time Calcutta Football League (CFL) record title holders have scored just one in their corresponding three. In such a scenario, when attack and defence are likely to be under the spotlight, it's the midfield that is likely to decide the encounter. 

Earlier last week, this publication argued the necessity for India's best midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh to sparkle back to life. The opportunity presents itself in the form of a fixture against East Bengal. No doubt, Mehtab Hossain will look to shackle the 30-year-old but the onus will be on Bengaluru's number 10 to refresh himself for the match.

Last time around, the match was billed as Harmanjot Khabra return to East Bengal in the colours of the opposition. This time around, expect none of the usual fanfare as a dogged fisticuff is set to be unleashed.  

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