BY ATANU MITRA
EAST BENGAL CLUB
Last season's performance: (Finished third) - The club was one of the most consistent performers of the last season's I-League. Playing under the tutelage of the shrewd British tactician Trevor James Morgan, they managed nine clean sheets in their first 10 I-League matches and were a front-runner in the race for the coveted league title. However, a number of late slip-ups against teams like ONGC FC, Air India and United Sports saw them miss out in the final laps as they had to be content with a third place finish behind Churchill Brothers and Pune FC. They edged past Mohun Bagan to lift the Kolkata League for the third consecutive season.
The team was also very impressive in the knock-out tournaments, as they won the Federation Cup and finished runners in the IFA Shield. Their best performance however, came in the AFC Cup, where they become the first Indian team to reach the last eight of the continental competition unbeaten all throughout.
| THE COACH
Marcos Falopa, the new coach of the Red and Gold will have big shoes to fill in as he replaces Trevor Morgan. The Brazilian will have at his disposal arguably the best Indian contingent, joined by four foreign players who have excelled in the I-League. Expectations will be running high from the Red and Gold faithful and it remains to be seen whether Falopa can add the much elusive I-League title to the East Bengal trophy cabinet.
He is accompanied by his son Americo at the club, who is the new physio of the Kolkata giants.
| TRANSFER DEALINGS
TRANSFERS IN: The East Bengal officials have done a brilliant job in the transfer market by bringing in top quality players this summer. Ryuji Sueoka, the Japanese playmaker who was adjudged the best player of the I-League back in 2011, has joined the side on a year long deal and has already won hearts of the supporters by scoring the solitary goal in their 1-0 win against Semen Padang in the AFC Cup quarter-final's first leg. The club has also sealed the signature of James Moga, who finished as the second highest scorer in the last edition of the league. This makes the attacking line of the outfit one of the strongest, with Chidi Edeh joining Moga upfront. Joaquim Abranches will be the man to watch out as the former Dempo player has already impressed in his first couple of Kolkata League outings. Abhra Mondal, Shylo Malswam Tulunga and Dipankar Roy all returned to their old stomping ground, whereas Nilendra Dewan was picked up from Southern Samity.
TRANSFERS OUT: Several big names left for pastures anew, many of whom were integral parts of Trevor Morgan's plans. Starting with the strikers, Robin Singh joined the newly formed Bengaluru FC while Manandeep Singh was ousted after reportedly carrying out a surgery without the club's permission. Andrew Barisic, the Australian forward, who scored a fabulous goal against Mohun Bagan in the IFA Shield semifinal besides chipping in with a few important goals in the AFC Cup, has joined Melbourne Knights in the Victorian Premier Legaue. Ishfaq Ahmed and Sanju Pradhan have opted to join the proposed IMG-Reliance League. The biggest absence will however be that of Penn Orji, who played a pivotal role in all of East Bengal's success in the last three seasons. The Nigerian midfielder has joined the newly-promoted Mohammedan Sporting side.
| FORMATION AND TACTICS
Marcos Falopa will primarily depend on the classical 4-4-2, as he has the prolific duo of Edeh Chidi and James Moga at his disposal. Joaquim Abranches is also expected to get game time depending on his form. Ryuji Sueoka will play in the hole behind the two strikers, but will also have to drop down during the opponent attacks to make up the numbers in the midfield. With at least one U-23 player to be named in the line-up, Lalrindika Ralte has been assured of a starting spot on the left flank, while Reisangmi Vashum will be playing on the right wing. Uga Okpara will pair up with Arnab Mondal at the heart of the defense, while Naoba Singh and Saumik Dey complete the quartet. Abhijit Mondal will primarily bear the responsibility to guard the Red and Gold citadel.
With a number of talented midfielders on hand, it remains to be seen how the Brazilian can yield the best out of his squad. Harmanjyot Singh Khabra may also get a fair share of first team action after regaining fitness. Cavin Lobo, Alvito D'Cunha and Malswam Tulunga are good options to choose from the bench.
Man to Watch - Lalrindika Ralte
Everytime the national squad is announced, critics point at his exclusion from Wim Koevermans' plans. Undoubtedly he is one of the talented players at the club and will look to finally seal a berth in the starting eleven. He is good from set-pieces and can score goals as well. East Bengal fans will hope that the player remains injury-free and justify the talent he has.
| SEASON'S TARGET
The only blip for Trevor Morgan was the fact that he couldn't lead his side to win the I-League in three seasons. So, the first name on Falopa's target list for trophies has to be the I-League. They are certainly one of the favourites going by the squad they have. They will also look to progress further in the AFC Cup and become the first Indian club to reach the final of the continental competition.
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