BY KAUSTAV BERA Follow @hopelessk on twitter
EAST BENGAL CLUB
Last season's performance: (Finished Fourth) - East Bengal were widely expected to lift the trophy after finishing runners up in the 2013-14 season with veteran, Armando Colaco in charge. However, they could only finish fourth, the pain of which was compounded by bitter rivals, Mohun Bagan lifting the coveted I-League trophy.
The Kolkatan custom of chopping and changing managers was at the forefront of yet another disappointing season as Armando Colaco was let go at the start of the campaign after only six games in charge. A loss against Salgaocar and a draw against minnows Bharat FC were the last straws for the former Dempo manager. Even though they began their campaign on a high note by beating reigning champions Bengaluru FC, they slowly lost themselves in mediocrity.
The change of management affected them adversely instead of solving things, with Eelco Schattorie complaining that players were not listening to his instructions on the pitch. Losing four of their last five matches, it was only the poor performance of teams around them, that saw them finish fourth in the table.
With talks of Trevor Morgan coming into the fray after Eelco Schattorie left at the end of the season, the East Bengal management appointed former Mohun Bagan manager, Biswajit Bhattacharya. The understanding was that Biswajit would guide the team during the Calcutta Football League (CFL) while serving as an assistant under Morgan who would take over for the I-League.
Bhattacharya however would have none of the speculations and insisted he was there for the long haul. He did indeed proved his credentials when he marched to a comfortable CFL win, the Red and Golds' sixth on the trot. The feat also included a 4-0 humbling of neighbours, Mohun Bagan and enabled him to confirm his position as the manager for the I-League season.
While the top division is a different ball game altogether, the fine display in the CFL will only enthuse Biswajit. However, a couple of losses here and there and the clamours of his removal will again rise, something which he needs to prepare for.
The club has released three of their foreign players, including defender Milan Susak, midfielder Leo Bertos and striker Dudu Omagbemi. Defenders Raju Gaikwad and Safar Sardar have both elected to switch to neighbours Mohun Bagan. Subodh Kumar and Sukhwinder Singh have also been released from the club.
The biggest coup by the Red and Golds officials was to snap up the prized signature of I-League winning defender Bello Rasaq from bitter rivals, Mohun Bagan. Not content with that, they also snagged Sehnaj Singh and CS Sabeeth from the Mariners. Joining Ranti Martins upfront, is South Korean playmaker Do Dong Hyun who was a sensation during the recently concluded CFL.
Bikash Jairu who played for India in the SAFF Championship has been roped in from Salgaocar while Rahul Bheke has switched from Mumbai FC. Other additions include Samad Ali Mallik from Rainbow and the return of Sanju Pradhan. Shot-stopper TP Rehenesh too has been signed by Bhattacharya. Interestingly enough, East Bengal still have not signed a fourth foreigner.
Bhattacharya likes to deploy his team in a 4-3-3 formation which often can change its shape to a 4-4-1-1. Ranti Martins is expected to play the role of the lone striker upfront and if East Bengal do sign another foreign striker, he would most likely partner up with him. Ranti who has of late made himself a complete player, looking to drop deep to get the ball, will still be their best bet to score. New signing CS Sabeeth and Mohammed Rafique, will provide options from the bench unless Biswajit opts for two upfront.
While Do Dong Hyun will be expected to start on the right wing but cut inside at every opportunity, the other flank will most probably be manned by the enterprising Bikash Jairu or the young Abinash Ruidas. Add to this the bench options of Lalrindika Ralte and Cavin Lobo, and East Bengal probably have enough in their armory to bring any team down. The abundance of hard working wingers is indeed a plus for East Bengal as they also have the services of Sanju Pradhan and the tireless Shylo Malswamtlunga to call upon.
The central midfield will be the strongest bet for the Kolkata giants with veterans Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Mehtab Hossein jostling for spots with youngsters Sehnaj Singh and Prohlad Roy.
The East Bengal defence which was one of the major reasons for their poor run last season, having conceded 28 goals with an ever-changing back four has a more stable look to it. The pairing of Arnab Mondal and Bello Rasaq is probably the strongest centre-back pairing in the country, at least on paper. The full-back positions too are well managed with skipper Robert Lalthlamuana on the left and new recruit Rahul Bheke on the right. Deepak Mondal who can play anywhere in the back four and Samad Ali Mallick will serve as adequate covers in defence.
The goalkeeping issue has also been rectified with the signing of TP Rehenesh who has dazzled the ISL with stunning saves in both the seasons. He will instantly be the numero uno keeper in the side, with Luis Barreto for cover.
Man to Watch - Do Dong Hyun
The South Korean youngster took Kolkata by storm when he smashed in two goals against familiar foes, Mohun Bagan in the 4-0 thrashing. On top of that, he finished top scorer in the CFL with 12 goals, without breaking a sweat.
A genuine playmaker with great feet and pace, Dong is also adept at taking free-kicks as he demonstrated against Bagan. A defender's nightmare, Dong is good with both his feet and has already made his intentions clear as he said he wants to win the I-League with East Bengal after winning the CFL.
With such a star-studded squad, the Red and Golds faithful will be hoping for their first I-League title, especially after the last few seasons, when the club has finished consistently in the top three, but has failed to lift the trophy. Add to this the motivation of seeing rivals Mohun Bagan winning the coveted trophy last time around and you would expect them to give it a real go.
With the club fresh from the CFL win, they only have to build on their display to pip the other teams to the summit, to claim the prize which has eluded them so far.
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