Why East Bengal's I-League hopes lurched from boom to bust?

Though the Red and Gold made a great start to the season, they have lost the plot recently. Goal.com discusses all the reasons for their sudden downfall.....
East Bengal have arguably the best defense in the nation, alongwith a decent midfield. Among their three strikers, two are regular Indian Internationals and the other is an experienced foreigner. Yet East Bengal find themselves almost out of the title race with almost one third of their matches remaining in the tournament. Goal.com takes a close look at what went wrong for the Red and Gold.

Trevor Morgan, the British coach of the side, has been at the helm for the last two and a half years. The team has performed well under him, winning two Kolkata leagues and finishing second in both the previous two I-League editions. Last year the team played 5 tournaments, winning three of them and finishing runner-up in the remaining two. The start of this season was somewhat similar. They conquered the first tournament of the season, the Federation Cup. In the opening ten matches of the I-League, they conceded just once.

They were going through an unbeaten streak of 29 matches in all domestic tournaments before Aryans Club defeated them in the Kolkata league. This led to a downward spiral in the team's form, as defeats to Prayag United and Mumbai FC followed. Their displays have been inconsistent ever since.

Morgan had inculcated into the side the quality of playing 'pass-and-move' brand of football even when they were trailing which made their style of playing the game, a treat to the naked eye.

                                         EB's cause hasn't been helped by Orji's loss of form...

It must be pointed Penn Orji has been the primary creative force for East Bengal. However the diminutive Nigerian has looked out of form lately. From the very first match of the season, Morgan implement a 4-4-2 formation where he used two defensive midfielders in Ishfaq Ahmed and Mehtab Hussain. This hampered their attack considerably given that they preferred a double pivot in the middle of the park in their bid to shield the back four.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the Kolkata giants this year has been their inability to operate from the wings. Ishfaq, who was known for his pace down the flanks, is operating more centrally while their full backs, namely Naoba Singh and Soumik Dey, haven't been at their best when going forward. Thus the  responsibility of goal scoring had to be borne by the strikers.

The new recruit of the season, Chidi Edeh has been quite impressive and has been the top scorer for the team. However, the lacklustre performance of the other strikers, namely Robin Singh and Manandeep Singh, has been the primary cause of concern for the coach. The two, who are the second and third choice strikers for the national team after Sunil Chhetri, have rarely impressed. Manandeep though has scored a few important goals, like in the Federation Cup against Kalighat M.S and in the I-League against Churchill Brothers. But his inconsistency has come to hurt the club while Robin Singh, his replacement, has rarely found the back of the net.

Also not having signed a fourth foreigner at the start of the season has only served to compund their problems. The foremost reason for Churchill’s success has been that their four foreigner players have excelled. Pune FC has four overseas players and also have the services of Arata Izumi, the Japanese footballer who recently got an Indian citizenship.

Though East Bengal have signed Andrew Barisic a few days back, he is yet to play a match for the side and it can be questioned how justified it is to sign a new player their title hopes are bleak. Chidi Edeh has struggled due to lack of support in the opponents’ box. It must be noted that club officials had claimed that insufficient funds was the reason as to why they couldn't add a foreign player to their roster.

                                                       Players like Paite have shone, away on loan...

One must point out that a host of midfielders were signed over the summer window. With several players not getting enough playing time, manty were shipped out on a loan to other clubs. The best example that comes to mind is of Khanthang Paite who joined Pune FC on loan and has been a prominent figure in keeping the team firmly in the title-hunt.

These players should have been either not signed or not loaned out. The side couldn’t reap the harvest of all the talent it spent for. It serves as a lesson for the officials to act wisely in the future by not signing a large number of players for the same position which shall not only makes economic sense but can help in channeling the resources better by bringing on a fourth foreigner.

It must be brought to light that the defense has played its part by keeping more clean sheets than any other side in the league. However, it may become a reason for a debate whether this achievement is only due to the excellent form of the defenders or largely due to the fact that they have played two screening midfielders in front of the back four for most of the matches.

The youngsters like Lalrindika Ralte certainly deserved more playing time. Morgan also could have tried playing with three defenders against the 'not-so-strong' sides, given the excellent performance of Mehtab all throughout the season as he puts brakes to the opposition attacks.

East Bengal have also been guilty of the fact that they resort to ugly and unrewarding long balls should they fail to score in the first half of a game. This tactic has been largely ineffective for them and has seen a shift in their style of play.

The Red and Gold still has many a match left this season in the I-League, Kolkata League, AFC Cup and IFA Shield (should they decide to play). The team has to overcome these problems to contend for the silverware in all of them. It it also to be seen how well Barisic performs, given he has been out action more than 6 months now.

Over to Balewadi for the game against Pune FC!

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