With the I-League approaching its zenith of a conclusion, fans of Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC, two of the top clubs from this year’s chase for the trophy, are quietly praying that each of their teams lifts the coveted title of India’s football champions.
|FIVE REASONS WHY BENGALURU FC DESERVE TO WIN THE I-LEAGUE|
The Blues are the defending champions of India, whilst Mohun Bagan, with their rich Kolkata history, are the rival contenders for the title and currently lead the table by two points. Avoiding defeat at the Kanteerva stadium will propel the Mariners, a team who finished EIGHTH last year, to being the champions of India’s premier football league, swiping away years of hurt, and that’s more than enough to compel Sanjoy Sen, gaffer of the Green and Maroon Brigade, to prepare his players without the tiniest of glitches in mentality and attitude.
Goal would like to par the contenders for the trophy, so here are five reasons why Mohun Bagan should win the I-League.
|BEST DEFENSIVE RECORD IN THE I-LEAGUE|
Challenge the most ardent of football fans around the world and they will tell you that besides a capable attack, the ability to shorn the opposition of goals is the disposition of champions. This is exactly what Mohun Bagan have done over the 19 games they have played this season. Besides being competent in attack, where they have scored 32 goals compared to the 34 of Bengaluru FC, they have let in just 15 goals, three less than their nearest rivals. Much of this credit, falls on Bello Razaq, the Nigerian recruit, who has marshaled the defense extremely well. Pritam Kotal has emerged as a lynchpin in the right-back’s role, whilst Dhanachandra Singh has become equally undroppable at left-back. Couple this with decent performances by Razaq’s partners in the heart of the defense, ala Anwar Ali and Kingshuk Debnath, and you have what has turned out to be an example of a title winning defense.
|THE I-LEAGUE'S BEST FLAIR PLAYERS|
Just over a year ago, not many in India would’ve backed the attacking nous that Katsumi Yusa has imbued this season, let alone have an inkling of who Sony Norde is, at that time a Sheikh Jamal Dhanmodi player in the Bangladesh Premier League.
Fast forward 12 months and the picture is completely upturned. Norde has been the league’s best forward recruit by a mile, with his tricks and turns confounding many a defender. His presence in the team has ensured that Bagan are not only one of the most potent teams going forward but also one of the most entertaining on the ball, as Norde has shown many a time. His influence has been increased with the placement of Katsumi Yuasa on the wings for the Mariners, with Sen opting not to use the wily Japanese in a more central role. This has resulted in Yusa, often cutting in from the wings with his skill and scoring seven goals in the process. To put in a case-in-point, Norde and Yusa have jointly scored 16 of Bagan’s 32 goals in the league this term! All in all two of the league’s most gifted flair players have definitively given Bagan a leg up in the race for the title.
|EXEMPLARY DOMESTIC FORM THROUGHOUT, NOTABLY AT THE START|
Mohun Bagan had one of the most riveting starts to the I-League campaign, going 12 games unbeaten and racking up a nine point lead in the chase for the title at one point in time. Though that fell away towards the end of the season, they have maintained semblance and resilience to rack up the most number of wins in the league. Their grit in matches is particularly noteworthy as they have been defeated only by a one goal in their three losses. They have also been unbeaten at home throughout the season.
|EXCELLENT FOREIGN RECRUITMENT AND SUPERIOR TEAM COHESION|
Bagan’s foreign recruitment policy had been frowned upon many a fans and analyst last season. Finishing eighth and narrowly avoiding a relegation scrap, they simply didn’t have the exhilarating spirit that many fans hoped from a Kolkata side. This season again has set a precedent for clubs looking to replicate the Moun Bagan model. They have bought smartly, with the likes of Sony Norde, Pierre Boya and Bello Razaq adding flair and grit to the team in the right temperament. Razaq and Norde are right up there with the best to play in the league, in terms of caliber, and they have duly rewarded faith shown in them by the Bagan management with stellar performances in defense and attack respectively. Only Katsumi Yusa has seen his star stay with the Mariners from a disappointing 2013-14 season.
Meanwhile, though foreign recruits make a significant impact, it is the aplomb and confidence with which the Indian players have stepped up from the Bagan team that has surprised many neutrals. The likes of Sehnaj Singh, Bikramjit Singh and Denson Devadas have become midfield mainstays with some of them putting in match winning shows. At the back, as explained above, Pritam Kotal has turned into a defensive bedrock in the right back slot, with his performance against Royal Wahingdoh culminating in a wonder goal. Balwant Singh may not have had the best of seasons as the spearhead, but he had a purple patch of goal scoring glut, which was only ended by his three match suspension for dissent. Jeje Lalpekhlua may have struggled with injury, but his form has improved over the course of the season. All this measures for good reading as the title decider looms.
|THE METICULOUS AND SAVIENT SANJOY SEN|
The former Mohammedan Sporting coach’s arrival into the Bagan hot seat had been treated with dull acknowledgements with the Kolkata club being relegated last term. However in the space of five months, Sen has managed to turn the team from a mid-table buggy to a top of the table racecar. He has meticulously prepared his team for separate matches and though some of his decisions have been criticized, he has generally come out the winner with the performance of his team speaking volumes. Sen hasn’t bothered about what the opposition does, in his own words and often imposes his team on the opposition, something which clearly shows his fath in the squad's ability. Though in recent times Sen has spoken about being unsure over his continued tenure of the Mariners, fans of the Green and Maroon will hope he can win the title this Sunday and possibly have a crack at retaining it next season.
Send Regards and Resentments to Nikhil Jitendran on Twitter