BY KAUSTAV BERA Follow @hopelessk on twitter
Mohun Bagan Athletic Club
Last season's performance: Champions - After finishing a measly eighth in the 2013-14 season, no one gave Mohun Bagan much of a chance in the next iteration of the country's top footballing league. However, the Green and Maroon proved their doubters wrong, and in some style. Sony Norde and Katsumi Yusa led from the front as the Mariners recovered from a mid-season stutter to lift the coveted trophy for the first time in their illustrious history.
They did serve up enough drama for the neutrals though as a poor run, coupled with Bengaluru's unbeaten march after a stuttering start, meant that the championship was up for grabs in the final showdown that interestingly saw the two face each other. It was a late equalising goal from Bello Rasaq that allowed them to sneak a draw and lift the cup, after John Johmson had given the Steelmen the lead.
|THE COACH - SANJOY SEN|
Sanjoy Sen who was appointed after Subhash Bhowmick was let go, managed to do the unthinkable, win the coveted I-League, something that had eluded Mohun Bagan since the time of its inception. He did that too, in his very first season in charge of the Kolkata giants.
Sen's strength was in his man-management abilities which often shielded his sometimes questionable tactical decisions. Now the former Railways' player needs to build on the last season. With a clutch of changes in his squad, Sen will need to build the team's chemistry from scratch as he looks to match his previous season's success. While he could only finish third in the Calcutta Football League (CFL), seeing arch rivals East Bengal lift the crown, the I-League is a different ball game altogether and the failed campaign in the CFL would hardly come into play for the upcoming season.
Among the chief departures were the architects of their triumph last season, Pierre Boya leaving and Bello Rasaq who joined East Bengal. Sehnaj Singh who helmed the midfield for the Mariners and young defender, Jonny Raut too followed Bello to the Red and Golds. CS Sabeeth also switched over to the familiar foes, making it four players who have changed sides to East Bengal. Denson Devadas and Anwar Ali who made several appearances last season have also been released.
In spite of losing out on a couple of key players, the bench looks far stronger this season. Cornell Glen has been signed on loan from Shillong Lajong while Subash Singh has been roped in after Bharat FC folded. Youngsters Azharuddin Malik from United SC and Raja Das from Kalighat MS have been added to the first squad. In the midfield, Kean Lewis has been signed while Lenny Rodrigues has joined after Dempo were relegated.
Robinson Singh is another fresh face in the wings, joining from the AIFF Elite academy. In defence, Sanjay Balmuchu has joined from Mohammedan while Raju Gaikwad and Safar Sardas have been lured away from East Bengal. Meanwhile, Prabir Das has switched from Dempo while Sarthak Golui has been brought in from the academy. However the big fish is veteran defender, Luciano Sobrosa who arrived from the now defunct Pune FC. Bagan have brought in backup in goal in the form of Arnab Das Sharma from Mohammedan SC.
The defending champions will likely feature ina 4-2-3-1 formation with slight tactical tweaks. While Mohun Bagan ran away with gold last time around, the burden of expectations might be a troubling factor for them this time around, as fans will expect them to retain the trophy.
Debjit Majumder who had been one of the runaway success stories last season will be the undisputed starter in goal, especially after Shilton Paul's poor showing in the CFL.
After losing Bello Rasaq who singlehandedly ran the defence last season, Luciano Sobrosa will need to be the leader at the back. Former East Bengal man, Raju Gaikwad will most likely get the nod to partner Luciano in central defence. Sen will also have Kinshuk Debnath, Shouvik Ghosh and Deepak Devrani as backup while Dhanachandra Singh and Pritam Kotal would be the regular full-backs for the side. He also has backup in the form of Sukhen Dey and Prabir Das in the full-back positions.
We can expect Lenny Rodrigues and Bikramjit Singh pairing up to give some dynamism to Bagan's midfield. While Lenny turned out for FC Pune City, Bikramjit was a permanent fixture in the FC Goa midfield and can slot into the role of destroyer while the former creates for the team although their roles are easily interchangeable.
Lalkamal Bhowmick, who was one of the better players for Bagan in the CFL, along with Souvik Chakraborty who had a good ISL campaign leading Delhi Dynamos to the semi-finals, will be more than decent options if Sen wants to change things around.
On the wings, you would expect the destructive duo of Katsumi Yusa and Sony Norde to do what they did throughout last season. Sen will also have options to bring on in the form of the young and talented Kean Lewis and the pace of Subash Singh.
With Pierre Boya who dictated the team's play gone, Bagan will look to start with two strikers up front, with one of them dropping back to make up numbers in midfield. Interestingly, with the addition of Cornell Glen and Jeje Lalpekhlua being in fine form, Bagan do have options upfront especially with another Chennaiyin FC player, Balwant Singh on the bench.
Jeje who scored six goals and assisted thrice in Chennayin FC's ISL triumph, scored in India's SAFF final win over Afghanistan and is on a red hot streak. His partnership with Glen, who smashed in 16 goals for Shillong last term will indeed be a threat for all the I-League teams. Balwant who was first choice for Bagan last time around, played second fiddle to Jeje in Chennaiyin and will also be hungry to win his place back.
Man to Watch - Sony Norde
In spite of boasting the likes of Glen and Jeje, the trump card for the reigning champions can be no one but the Haitian playmaker whose virtuoso performances were the key to Mohun Bagan's triumph.
Although his ISL side, Mumbai City FC only finished a lowly sixth, Sony was the sole shining light having scored three goals and assisted four times in a disappointing campaign. His ability to take on defenders and beat them with pace and trickery will be a key weapon in Sen's arsenal. The addition of Glen who is probably the best finisher in the I-League, will only mean that the pressure on Norde to score will be reduced this time around.
After ending years of disappointment, Bagan succeeded in bringing the I-League back to Kolkata last season. The task before them is no easier though, as they will look to defend their crown.
They also have a point to prove against their arch rivals, East Bengal who bested them in the CFL and defeated them 4-0 in the solitary encounter. With numerous changes in personnel from the CFL debacle, Sen will only hope that they can replicate their deadly form which made them devastating last season.
Key to this will be another strong start and with Bagan meeting East Bengal in only their third match of the season, a win in the crucial derby fixture will not only boost the morale of the team but effectively herald to everyone else, that they are still hungry.
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.