I-League Tactical Review: Compact defensively, yet disciplined approach leads to Kolkata derby stalemate

Goal.com's Sarthak Dubey analyses the tactical battle between Karim Bencherifa and Trevor Morgan, with both ultimately cancelling each other out, resulting in a goal-less stalemate

Although this Kolkata derby was a deadlock 0-0 Saturday lunchtime encounter, it certainly had some tactical spice added to it with two of the best foreign coaches in the country, Karim Bencherifa and Trevor Morgan, going head-to-head.

East Bengal had lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation with the attacking trio of Edeh Chidi, Penn Orji and striker Baljit Sahni operating slightly behind the central striker. Mehtab Hussain, playing in the anchor-midfield role, had a fantastic game controlling the rhythm of play flawlessly with Ishfaq Ahmed and Lalrindika Ralte supporting him.

Mohun Bagan too had a similar looking 4-3-3 which kept fluctuating into a 4-3-2-1 as the game progressed. Captain Odafa Okolie played the main striker’s role with Aussie partner Tolgay Ozbey floating behind him and towards the right flank. Youngster Manish Bhargav was handed a quite withdrawn central role in the first half with the midfield trio of Denson Devadas, Jewel Raja and Manish Maithani playing very rigid, yet disciplined roles.

East Bengal gradually gain control after initial Bagan dominance

For the first 10 to 15 minutes of the first half, the Mariners came out all guns blazing, with three players playing up-front, midfield pressing high up the pitch and combining to create chances. The link-up play in the initial stages of the game between Tolgay and Odafa was exceptional, with the Australian steaming into the box from the right flank on a couple of occasions after lay-offs from his Nigerian strike partner. The pressure on the opponents was good and the defensive-midfield zone was packed with players, making it quite scrappy.

This promising Mariners momentum in the earlier stages of the game gradually fizzled out by the 20th minute due to the composure of a certain Mehtab Hussain. The East Bengal defensive midfielder controlled the possession and flow with his tough tackling, ability to move into space and fantastic range of passing. The trajectory of his long balls aimed towards Penn Orji on the right flank was accurate, all though the ones bombarded towards Edeh Chidi were a bit too pacey to handle. Overall, his positional play was exceptional. On numerous occasions, we noticed Hussain, Harmanjot Khabra and Ishfaq Ahmed combining to form mini-triangles; either to retain ball possession or spot the runs of Penn Orji on the right flank.

While in the defensive phase, the Mohun Bagan formation transformed into a 4-5-1 with Odafa left as the lone striker. With the sheer number of bodies behind the ball and some rough tackling, the Red and Gold brigade found it tough to penetrate towards goal. And as Trevor Morgan pointed out after the game, they probably did lack that “individual brilliance”. Just as Aussie boy Tolgay Ozbey looked dangerous from the right for the Mariners, East Bengal’s Penn Orji too preferred to float behind Edeh Chidi and slowly adjusted his position on the right, almost as a winger. He looked threatening every time he stormed past Syed Nabi, although his crosses could have been much better.

The diagram shows the exact positioning of the players in the attacking phase. The transitions from defense to attack were not quick and effective, but rather patiently built up. This was the reason East Bengal were not able to penetrate. Not too many clear-cut chances were created and Trevor Morgan’s men were just left with half chances. While Mohun Bagan resorted to long balls fired straight towards Odafa Okolie, the striker showed tremendous upper body strength and held the ball well while waiting for Manish Bhargav, Tolgay Ozbey and Jewel Raja to join him in attack. Edeh Chidi, on the other hand, was spilling the long balls launched towards him and really didn’t help out too much with his lacklustre finishing. The central role of Manish Bhargav demanded disciplined defensive work and tracking back to help out the defense. The India U-23 international was rash and late in his tackles, giving away many silly fouls which could have led to a goal from set-piece delivery.


The beginning of the second half saw the exact same trend as noticed in the first half – Mohun Bagan domination for the first 15 minutes after the break and the Red and Gold brigade slowly settling into the rhythm of play. With players tiring and cramps erupting to certain players, Mohun Bagan changed their strategy and shifted the versatile Manish Bhargav into the right midfield role, pushing Tolgay Ozbey closer to Odafa. This didn’t seem to alter the pace of the game, with the midfield still compact and space still very hard to find.

With Trevor Morgan noticing the shaky handling of Shilton Paul and the rock solid Mohun Bagan defense refusing to let anything go by, launching long balls was the last resort. This brought a heroic performance from the Mariners main center-back Echezona Anyichie, who thwarted every long ball aimed towards Chidi, tackled precisely and sprayed the ball forward efficiently, everytime he found himself in possession.
The last 25 minutes of the game completely shut out the creative spark of Tolgay Ozbey (who was subsequently substituted) and Penn Orji, who hardly saw much of the ball. There was fresh energy added to the battle with Cavin Lobo coming on for Baljit Sahni, with the former creating a couple of half chances with his quick feet. Syed Nabi moved forward on every occasion he could but couldn’t supply the X-factor that he usually posseses. The other full-back Nirmal Chettri didn’t have too much to boast about either, with the Indian international coming close with a powerful header which went well wide of the post, early on in the game.


Even though East Bengal enjoyed more possession of the ball, it was the Mariners who carved out clear cut chances, almost on a counter attacking note. High defensive pressure and a compact midfield battle made penetration extremely difficult for both teams, hence resulting in a 0-0 deadlock. A point well earned by both sides. Now its upto East Bengal to try and lift the title, while Mohun Bagan have to avoid relegation and concentrate on winning the Kolkata league.

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