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Mohun Bagan v East Bengal

Tactical masterclass from Kibu Vicuna outfoxes Alejandro Menendez

19:29 GMT+3 01/09/2019
Antonio Kibu Vicuna Mohun Bagan
Bizarre team selection from Menendez allowed Mohun Bagan to corner East Bengal...

There's a thin line of difference between being cautious and being timid. Kibu Vicuna chose to be cautious by sacrificing Salva Chamorro from the starting lineup in the Kolkata derby whereas, Alejandro Menendez appeared to be timid in leaving out Jaime Santos and Bidyasagar Singh. 

To bench your best attacking players in a high voltage match like the derby makes little sense. Moreover, Santos and Singh have been in pristine form in the last couple of games and axing them from the starting line-up only benefited Mohun Bagan's defence which had looked leaky in the run up to the big ticket Calcutta Football League (CFL) clash.

Marcos Espada is still to find his rhythm and the Spaniard did little to trouble opposition defence. His movement inside the box was negligible and the discord between him and his teammates was glaring. East Bengal were blunt in the attacking third and as the match progressed the absence of Santos became more profound. 

Credit must be given to Bagan's midfield trio of Francisco Gonzalez Munoz, Joseba Beitia and SK Sahil as they dominated proceedings right from the first whistle. With Kassim Aidara and Lalrindika Ralte busy in restricting Beitia, East Bengal lacked a playmaker in midfield which further eased the task for the opposition. 

Menendez deployed Kassim Aidara to unsettle Beitia but the Senegalese was a massive failure. He was at his wit's end to contain the Spaniard and finally went into the books in the 38th minute after a series of rash challenges. Ralte was also lending a helping hand to Aidara but Beitia's brilliance helped him to come out on top on most occassions. His exquisite first touch gave little chance to his markers and the swift give-and-goes with Nongdamba Naorem were a treat to the eyes. 

But much of Bagan's dominance was due to Vicuna's tactical masterstroke of fielding Gonzalez in midfield ahead of Chamorro in attack. The defence was under scanner before the match and if the absence of Santos and Bidyasagar allowed them the breathing space then having Gonzalez and Sahil in front provided the much-needed confidence. 

Mohun Bagan lacked a tough midfielder and the arrival of Gonzalez has been a massive boost at the centre of the park. His sturdiness adds steel in midfield which becomes an important asset when you have to deal with the likes of Aidara and Ralte in an opposition shirt. The two defensive screeners were absorbing the bulk of the pressure and their high work-rate allowed Bagan to maintain the same intensity throughout the 90 minutes. 

There was much concern about Bagan's physical fitness before the match and Alejandro might have planned of utilizing this chink in the armour. Accordingly, he brought on Santos and Singh after the 70th-minute. But on the contrary, Vicuna's men continued to play in the same spirit even in the final quarter of the match which did not allow the substitutes to have the desired impact.

Only if VP Suhair had been more clinical in front of goal then Vicuna's change in strategy would have been a complete success. Nevertheless, this commanding performance against East Bengal would make the Mariners dream again of a successful season.