Armando Colaco's trial by fire will be the Kolkata Derby against familiar foe Karim Bencherifa...The season's first Kolkata Derby is upon us as Mohun Bagan are the home team for the match as they take on bitter rivals East Bengal. There are some interesting dynamics at play as the match sees old rivalries rekindled but this time in an altogether different state.
While East Bengal were pillars of continuity in the previous three seasons with Englishman Trevor Morgan at their helm while Mohun Bagan chopped and changed, the tides have turned this time around as the Mariners have stuck with Karim Bencherifa while the Red and Gold have already gone through a change after eight odd matches this season, with Brazilian Marcos Falopa leaving due to 'personal reasons' and the club appointing India's most successful I-League coach, Armando Colaco.
While Karim Bencherifa's wards have not looked down since their disappointing loss against Sporting Clube de Goa as they surprised league front runners Salgaocar, beating them at home before ending up unbeaten in their three subsequent away matches which included a gritty 1-0 victory against Mumbai FC.
While his team is on the inexperienced side when it comes to the pressure situation in a derby, the return of inspirational skipper and goal machine, Odafa Okolie who played a part in a Kolkata league encounter is good news for the Mariners faithful.
"This is definitely the biggest derby in Asia so I am very excited again. Our big strength recently has been our defending and I am very happy with the way we have been playing. We are high on confidence and everybody is looking forward to get involved in this match," said coach Karim Bencherifa.
Karim also has a full squad to choose from with the only absentees being Zakeer Mundampara due to an injury and defender Echezona Anyichie due to suspension. The Nigerian's absence from central defense might mean that Rowilson Rodrigues and Aibor Khongjee will be paired up at the back with new recruits from the defunct Indian Arrows, Pritam Kotal and Shouvik Ghosh will be the full backs. Kingshuk Debnath who is in top form could be used in midfield alongside the reliable Denson Devadasa.
In all probability, the remaining three foreign recruits are going to feature from the very beginning with Odafa playing the roving striker's role upfront supported by Katsumi Yusa behind him and Eric Muranda probably operating from the wings with CS Sabeeth deployed on the other wing.
Meanwhile for Armando Colaco who has seen many a Goan derby playing some against the very same man too, this is a different ball game altogether as the sheer pressure when it comes to the derby is tremendous.
East Bengal have been really rocked by their AFC Cup thrashing at the hands of Kuwait SC as their early season impetus has been all but lost. Losing at home to strugglers Dempo SC might have been balanced by a home win against high flying Bengaluru FC but all the good work was undone when they went down at home to Salgaocar FC and a boring draw against Sporting clube de Goa, a team they were expected to beat if they wanted the I-League trophy was the final nail in the coffin for Marcos Falopa.
Colaco does have a full squad to choose form including the return of Ryuji Sueoka who had played for his Dempo side last term. He might just go full attacking deploying Edeh Chidi and Cavin Lobo upfront with Mehtab Hossain patrolling the midfield while the ever dependable Uga Okpara marshalling the defense. It is also distinctly possible that he prefers to use James Moga as a late substitute instead and push Suoeka forward with Chidi with the brilliant Lalrindika Ralte operating behind.
Mohun Bagan Probable XI: Shilton, Aibor, Rowilson, Pritam, Shouvik, Kingshuk, Denson, Sabeeth, Katsumi, Odafa, Eric Muranda.
East Bengal Probable XI: Abhijit ,Uga, Arnab, Soumik, Naoba, Mehtab, Ralte, Khabra, Lobo, Chidi, Sueoka.
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