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I-League 2018-19: Enrique Esqueda has been the trump card for East Bengal

05:49 EAT 05/03/2019
Minerva Punjab vs East Bengal
The Mexican forward has been in prolific form since his return from a rib injury...

Enrique Esqueda showed his class and quality in his very first match on Indian soil when he scored a brace in a tricky away fixture against NEROCA. The manner in which he chest-controlled the ball before volleying it beyond the reach of Mauro Boerchio in goal, assured the East Bengal faithful that they have finally found a striker who will make headlines for all the right reasons.

In the very next match against Shillong Lajong, Enrique showed that he is not only capable of scoring goals but is equally adept in creating goal scoring opportunities. Most strikers would have pulled the trigger after getting a sight of goal but he chose to square it for Jobby Justin who was unmarked and the Keralite applied the finishing touch.

The Justin-Esqueda combination has blossomed for East Bengal with each passing match as the two strikers complement each other in the best possible way. As Esqueda is not a typical number nine, the Mexican is often seen dropping deep and drift wide to see more of the ball. This helps Justin find the space and freedom to trouble the defenders.

Esqueda has been directly involved in 12 goals this season, a feat achieved even after missing six matches owing to a rib injury. 

Most players need some minutes under their belt before they get back their sharpness after returning from a lengthy lay-off. But the 30-year old striker took just over 20 minutes to get back into his groove. Alejandro Menendez brought him on when East Bengal was trailing by a goal against NEROCA in the reverse fixture. When the match ended, the scoreline read 2-1 in favour of East Bengal, courtesy of a brace by Esqueda.

He has made the difference in numerous fixtures this season and is certainly one of the vital cogs in Menendez's team. In matches where East Bengal have been found struggling to break opposition's defence, Esqueda has led the way. 

Against Minerva Punjab, in the absence of Jobby Justin, East Bengal were missing a target man up front. Jorge Caicedo was closely marking him and when he was dropping deep to get more involved in the match, two Minerva players would rush to close him down. In these kinds of matches, it is important to convert the half chances and Enrique managed to do just that. 

Caicedo let his man go astray for a second and the striker pounced on an awkwardly bouncing backward header by Laldanmawia Ralte to score the winner. By the time the Colombian defender recovered and slid in, the ball had already nestled into the net. 

Out of his nine goals, five have come in matches helping East Bengal to pick three points while on two occasions it has salvaged at least a draw. 

On March 9, when the Red and Golds will be taking on Gokulam Kerala FC Menendez will be once again relying on his Mexican trump card to produce the goods. And if East Bengal are eventually crowned champions, then the contribution of this forward might just enter the folklore of Kolkata football.