BY ATANU MITRA (@Atanu00 on Twitter)
The times they are a-changin’ and changing pretty fast. When Trevor James Morgan last faced a Bengaluru-based team from the East Bengal dug-out, he managed to beat them in both legs which included a dominating 8-1 away victory. However, in the five years in between, the Garden City has gone through a footballing revolution with a new club named Bengaluru FC reaching the pinnacle of Indian football in its first attempt in 2014 and thereafter cementing their place at the top with another league victory last season. This Sunday, in the first big encounter of the season, the two teams will be facing off in a fixture that can have massive implications in the title-race.
Ahead of that, Morgan, the former Hull City Development Manager, has gone back to his favourite formation: the 4-1-2-1-2 diamond. During his earlier days at the Maidan club, this set-up produced attractive eye-catching football. A water-tight defence, a destructive Mehtab Hossain, a swaying Penn Orji and a prolific Tolgay Ozbey played some memorable matches, as the coach won seven trophies during his three-year stay at the club.
The I-League, though, has eluded him. He is back at it again, in what is touted to be a make or break season for the 97-year old establishment. After a nervy draw against Aizawl FC, the coach has adopted his favourite formation and has got instant results - winning six points from two away encounters. But to bag three points at Barasat Stadium this weekend, The Red and Golds will have to improve on a number of aspects.
The defence has already been a headache for the fans of the club. The last time Morgan was in charge of this team for a full season, they kept nine clean-sheets in their first ten encounters – a record in Indian top-flight football. However, the situation has been in stark contrast this time around, mainly because of the fact that India international Arnab Mondal is yet to regain his full fitness after getting injured in the Indian Super League.
His replacement Anwar Ali also picked up a groin injury in the last match, which means the coach has no option but to start with Gurwinder Singh at the heart of the defence, even though the former JCT player has looked very vulnerable. The Albert Roca-coached side has played the most fluid brand of football so far and it will be interesting to see whether the hosts’ back-line can handle the blistering pace of Udanta Singh, CK Vineeth and co.
This anxiety about the defenders’ performance has not redirected the focus from the other end of the pitch. Wedson Anselme has been deployed in the hole behind the two strikers but he has looked selfish in distribution, holding on to the ball for way too long. The Haitian will have to raise his game if he has to repeat the heroics of Orji, who was the lynchpin of Trevor’s earlier squad. Willis Plaza has been prolific and can cause danger to the Bengaluru FC defence, which is largely untested against strikers who have dribbling skills. However, the supply must improve if the Trinidad and Tobago international is to make an impact on the proceedings.
During Morgan’s earlier stint, the second striker was the weak link, with none among Robin Singh, Manandeep Singh, Baljit Singh Sahni and Edmilson turning out to be consistent match-winners. This may change this year with Ildar Amirov joining the side. The Kyrgyz striker, who had scored against India at the AFC Challenge Cup seven years ago, made his debut in the last match and may get the nod ahead of the likes of Robin Singh, Thongkhosiem Haokip and Mohammed Rafique on Sunday. The last time the Kolkata side started with four foreigners was when they were outclassed 3-1 by Bengaluru in April last year.
After winning the first three face-offs between these two sides, East Bengal have lost the last three. They will be eager to break the streak come Sunday, but for that Morgan will have to win the tactical battle against former Barcelona assistant coach Roca.
His diamond has proved its value in the past, but to dazzle again, it needs further polishing.