Chennai City FC took went a step ahead towards the I-League 2018/19 title when they edged past East Bengal in what was arguably the biggest match of the league this season.
Just like the first leg, the Southern outfit beat the Kolkata giants 2-1. Laldanmawia Ralte gave East Bengal the lead in the first half but Pedro Manzi and Alexander Jesuraj’s strikes in the second half sealed full points for Chennai.
The teams started the match on a cautious note. Even though both the teams have great quality in the attack, they took a safety-first approach and tried to judge each other’s strengths.
The away team took the lead early in the match from a well-coordinated corner kick. Lalrindika Ralte’s deep corner was kept in play by Borja Gomez who headed the ball in front of the goal and Danmawia found the back of the net with another header.
East Bengal managed to keep the Chennai attacks in check thereafter and did not allow their attacking trio of Nestor Gordillo, Pedro Manzi and Sandro Rodriguez time and space.
Nestor, who has been Chennai’s best player arguably, was completely kept silent by Samad Ali Mallick and Johnny Acosta on the right side. The Costa Rican World Cupper had a brilliant first half and was instrumental at the back.
But in the second half East Bengal completely went into a shell and hardly played their natural passing game. Instead, they focused too much on defending their lead and only got involved in playing long balls.
Toni Dovale failed to create any impact and Jaime Santos Colado also looked off colour and indulged in unnecessary by going down on the pitch and creating a ruckus. East Bengal’s Jobby Justin too had an off day after failing to convert some easy chances in the match.
Their ultra-defensive strategy did not pay off as Chennai scored twice in a span of 12 minutes and sealed the fate of the match.
Chennai City need to be credited for their keeping up their intensity but what turned out be the difference was their off the ball movement. Even their Indian players look to have improved dramatically, especially Pravitto Raj.
Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez will hope that Enrique Esqueda joins the team as soon as possible. The Mexican striker who was nursing an injury in his country is expected to be back in India on January 20.
The Kolkata club next take on Indian Arrows at home on January 18. They will hope to get back to winning ways in order to remain in the title race.