Bagan, under Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa, have endured a tough time of late. The Kolkata club have limped to eighth in the league and are presently breathing down the necks of fierce rivals East Bengal in seventh, but having played three games more than the Red and Gold. They have won just once in their last five games which included a shock defeat at home to minnows Rangdajied United. Eric Muranda was let go and was replaced by Christopher Chizoba.
The Nigerian made an impact immediately as he scored a brace in a 4-0 romp over United SC. That lifted the pressure off the coach as it was their first win in five and he will hope that the defeatist mentality Bagan have shown recently withers away. The return to form of Okolie Odafa has boosted the Mariners with him playing a big role in all four of his team’s goals, scoring one.
The problem for Bagan will be in defense. Thay have only five clean sheets all season, the majority of matches which ended in drab draws. Karim will expect his troops to pull up their socks up, especially Aniyichie Echezona.
“We have to work hard. I wish we don’t get any major injuries. The options are very limited. We will keep working hard. With good teamwork and good discipline, we can do well,” said coach Bencherifa who indicated that he may have a few injury niggles to deal with.
The form of Ram Malik, Denson Devadas and Debnath will be an added bonus for the Moroccan, who needs all hands on deck for the arrival of Mumbai FC. He is expected to head in with the same squad that beat United SC.
Mumbai on the other hand, can thank their lucky stars for the addition of Yusif Yakubu. The Ghanaian has transformed their attack, which has seen the Yellow and Black score 5 goals in their last two games. The addition of N.P. Pradeep and Mohammed Rafi into attack has acted like a dynamo on the squad. Pradeep and Yusif have scored four goals in total in the last two games itself.
Mumbai coach Khalid Jamil will also have Ahmad Hatifie back from suspension, while the versatile Haroon Amiri might miss the game on account of an injury he suffered in the Maharashtra derby. Sandeep Jhingan, another addition to the squad and a handful in the middle of the park, will look to repeat his performance against Pune FC, where he and Climax Lawrence were the engines of the team.
Bagan will look to neutralize the supply line to Nicholas Rodrigues who has proved indispensible with his forays down the left. Mumbai unlike Bagan now have depth in their squad and will look to capitalize on it in matches of this importance.
The stage is set then for a captivating encounter. Win and either team has a chance to close in on United SC in sixth place. Lose and questions will be asked of the players and coaches. Mumbai FC head into this match with the momentum on their side but it will be interesting to see if Jamil will rest Yakubu given the physical fatigue of travelling. He will no doubt look to attack Bagan on the counter, with Karim Bencherifa setting up a tactically potent squad to take the game to Mumbai FC.
A fascinating and possibly course-charting tie awaits us at the Salt Lake Stadium. Last time these teams met, it was Bagan who stole the points with a narrow victory over a morose Mumbai side. Whatever the result may be, the biggest winners will be the spectators of this fabulous game.
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