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With the I-League set to start, Goal.com has a look at where each of the participating sides are strong, and what could prove to be their Achilles heel during the tournament...

 Ayush Srivastava
 Feature | I-League
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Barely a few days after Dempo were edged out by East Bengal to the Federation Cup title, the Goans begin their title defense, as the I-League is finally up and running from 6thOctober.

Goal.com continues to build up to the season kick-off, by having a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of the 14 I-League sides.


AIR INDIA

Strengths
– The Mumbai based club managed to over achieve last season, on a shoe string budget. While Santosh Kashyap may have left, under Godfrey Pereira, more of the same can be expected.

Air India will head into almost each game as second favourites, hence the side should be up for each clash with no pressue on them. A united squad is the main strength of the Airmen. They play as a unit and though devoid of stars, the combined strength makes up for it.

Weakness – Yet again, the complete overhaul of a squad cannot be good for any side. They lost two of its most potent players upfront in Sandesh Gadkari and Manandeep Singh, and the squad is shorn of any proven quality. That can make a difference in tight situations.

 

CHURCHILL BROTHERS SC

Strengths – Their foreigners form a strong backbone for the side to build on. New Lebanese recruits, defender Bilal Najjarin and striker Akram Moghrabi have shown promising signs during pre-season, and with Beto and Henri Antchouet, form a strong quartet of foreigners, on whom the side shall rely for goals, as well as solidity.

Weakness – The club’s Indian core has weakened, with stars like Gouramangi Moirangthem, Lalrindika Ralte and Arindam Bhattacharya leaving the side for Kolkata based clubs. This means the squad will have to rely on newer untested players to step-up to the plate, and knowing their owner’s trigger happy stance, the pressure shall be well and truly on the team, to perform from the off.

 

DEMPO SC

Strengths – The stability of the side is its main strength. The squad has the same core as last season, bar the departure of Ranti Martins, but Armando Colaco shall hope, Joaquim Abranches, Rohan Ricketts and Koko Sakibo can make up for the loss of the Nigerian. Elsewhere the squad has great quality and experience, which shall give the Goans a good chance to defend their crown.

Weakness – Is the golden era coming to an end? Clifford Miranda, Anthony Pereira, Climax Lawrence and Mahesh Gawli, who form the Indian backbone of this side, are all into their 30’s now, and could find it difficult to perform at their best, week in and week out. Also as mentioned above, the forwards have a Ranti Martins-sized hole to fill.

 

EAST BENGAL

Strengths – The Kolkatans have a lot going for them, chief amongst them being their coach Trevor Morgan, who is one of the most tactically adept coaches in the league. Add to that the squad depth which is the envy of the entire league, and it is tough to look past them as the favourites for the league title.

Weakness – If there is a chink in their armour, then it is their inability to replace Tolgay Ozbey upfront, with one of their foreign slots going vacant as of now. Chidi Edeh did get the goals at the Federation Cup, but a majority were from the penalty spot, with the player missing several gilt-edged chances to get on the score sheet in open play.

 

MOHUN BAGAN

Strengths – You would be hard pressed to look any further than their strike force, to see where their strengths lie. A strike force of Odafa Okolie and Tolgay Ozbey is, atleast on paper, the most potent in the league.

Weakness – The inability of the side to play as a unit has been their shortcoming for a while now. Even in the Federation Cup they failed to shine, and the pressure is already mounting on Santosh Kashyap to yield the desired results, as patience is in short supply with the Mariners. Also fitness remains a major concern as their players, like each season, continue to look unfit and are always seen on the treatment table.

 

MUMBAI FC

Strength  - Khalid Jamil’s ability to manage a team on one of the smallest budgets in the league can be called their strength. A decent strikeforce of ND Opara and Yusif Yakubu could also fire them out of trouble.

Weakness - They just about manage to save themselves from relegation last season, and their displays in the Federation Cup were as bad. The squad lacks quality through the side, and could have another long season ahead of them. They do concede a lot of goals as their central midfield and defence continue to be a problem.

 

ONGC FC

Strength – The side has shown promising signs during pre-season and Federation Cup. The youngsters in the team are its biggest strengths, as ONGC has given them their first taste of I-League football. Katsumi Yusa is also one of the most under-rated foreign players in the league, and he can provide the creativity and goals that could keep Bibek Bhowmick’s side away from the relegation zone.

Weakness – Like the other Mumbai based clubs, the lack of quality and depth in the side is the biggest worry. Can their threadbare and inexperienced side carry them through the season? It remains to be seen.

 

PAILAN ARROWS

Strength – Arthur Papas is undoubtedly the biggest draw of the developmental side. The Australian has changed the club from one that played a boring, defensive brand of football, to one that now employs an expansive passing style with better results to boot.

Weakness– The fact that the side doesn’t have to contend with relegation, means that motivation could, at times be at a premium with the youngsters. Also a more expansive passing style would mean that the opposition have more space to break into.

 

PRAYAG UNITED SC

Strength – The depth and star quality of the side is its biggest strength. Ranti Martins and Carlos Hernandez look to be a mouth-watering partnership, while across midfield and defense too, they are stocked with Indian Internationals.

Weakness – Can a club full of stars play like a team? Atleast in the Federation Cup, they failed to do so, and are as of now, a work in progress. Sanjoy Sen also finds his position being called into question, which is never a good sign for a rebuilding team at the start of the season.

 

PUNE FC

Strength – A well drilled, professionally managed side under an able coach like Derrick Pereira, Pune FC have a lot going for them. There is not an area in particular, where they look have a weakness, and that in itself is a strength. James Moga and Jeje Lalpekhlua upfront have the making of a great strikeforce, if they hit it off together.

Weakness – They shall miss Subrata Paul at the back. Not only was the goalkeeper a great shotstopper, he also commanded his defense well. Losing other International pedigree players like Lester Fernandes and Baldeep Singh could also hurt the team.

SALGAOCAR FC

Strength – Karim Bencherifa and his ability to mould a winning side that is also capable of playing some brilliant passing football is their biggest strength. The Moroccan has unleashed a 4-3-3 formation, which with Anthony D’Souza and Milagres Gonsalves out wide with Sean Rooney or Angel Guirado through the centre, looks like a very formidable line-up.

Weakness– Not really replaced Khelemba Meitei in the central of defense, and that could hurt them over the season, as they rely too heavily on Luciano Sobrosa at the back.

 

SHILLONG LAJONG FC

Strength – The side’s strength is undoubtedly the passionate support that they receive at home in the I-League. The club also has a decent platform to build on, while John Menyongar and Friday Gbeneme have looked in fine touch over the pre-season.

Weakness – The club lost the core of their defense in Aibor Khongjee and L. Ralte over the summer, with keeper Soram Poirei also following them out of the team. It remains to be seen if their replacements are up to the task this season. Their away form usually is woeful.

 

SPORTING CLUBE DE GOA

Strengths – The Flaming Oranje never look short of a goal. They play a fine attacking brand of football and have goals in them, throughout the side. Having kept hold of most of their Indian players, they look like a settled side, who should be able to easily retain their I-league status.

Weakness – While they can always get a goal on the other end, they are equally susceptible to conceding one at the back. The Goans have leaked goals by the bucket, and Ekendra Singh has to find a way to sort that out.

 

UNITED SIKKIM FC

Strengths – Hard to point to any key strengths for the side. A combination of a technically proficient coach in Philippe De Ridder, the presence of the talismanic Bhaichung Bhutia and the unequivocal support of the home crowd are perhaps their key strengths.

Weakness – The squad lacks bite upfront and solidity at the back. They were out of their depth in the Federation Cup, and Anwar Ali can be as much of an asset, as a liability, at the back, due to his inconsistency. The team has got nothing much going for it, and could be set for a very short stint in the I-League, unless Bhaichung Bhutia rolls back the years in attack, though he prefers a slightly withdrawn position when he does play for them.

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