Khalid Jamil’s Mohun Bagan were the second-best during the course of 90 minutes, where his former club East Bengal played with elan. Much has changed in the Red and Gold camp since his departure and one of the best things to happen might just be the appointment of Alejandro Menendez.
On October 27 last year, after winning two matches on the trot, the Spaniard had said, "At this moment we are just at 40 per cent of our capabilities. In two months time, we will be much better."
Three months and he has managed to transform East Bengal. This looks like an unit which has been drilled with a plan and they are executing it day-in and day-out. It was an all-round dominating performance and Menendez's imprint is written all over it.
Much was spoken about Sony Norde and his influence in derbies and when the same question was thrown to the coach on Friday, he replied with a smirk, "We will see that on Sunday."
And at the end of 90 minutes, it was fair to say that his confidence was not misplaced. He had already made the blueprint to neutralise Norde which was executed to perfection by Lalram Chullova and Kassim Aidara.
Whenever the Haitian tried to make a foray in the attacking third from the middle, Aidara would be there to greet him with a tackle who was soon joined by Chullova. Whereas, if the winger was sticking to the wide areas, then the former Aizawl defender would be in an advanced position to stifle him even before he could find space.
An ineffective Norde meant that Bagan had no tooth in the attacking third. Aser Dipanda and Henry Kisekka had no impact whatsoever and Johnny Acosta and Borja Gomez had no difficulty in dealing with two docile strikers.
On the other hand, East Bengal's front pairing of Jaime Colado and Jobby Justin looked exceptional against a lacklustre Mohun Bagan defence. It was a nightmarish outing for the entire backline as the duo was on song for the entire match. Their off-the-ball movements and accurate passing got the better of Bagan's defence which was suffering from lack of co-ordination and more importantly, a leader who would organise at the back.
Credit must be given to Menendez who has been able to bring out the best from Justin as the striker scored his eighth of the campaign on Sunday. The manner in which he snatched the ball from Eze Kingsley and skipped past Lalchhawnkima to set up Colado was nothing short of brilliant. He hustled and bustled near Bagan's penalty box and handed a harrowing time to the defenders. In a 4-4-1-1 formation, Colado and Justin regularly interchanged positions which made it difficult for their markers to keep track of them.
The former Real Madrid Castilla manager had focused on set-pieces in the run-up to the derby and his team bore the fruits of his persistence. Larindika Ralte has sharpened his set-piece skills and the delivery from the flag-kick was inch-perfect which was met by none other than Justin. Dipanda was assigned the task to mark him and the striker was no match to the Keralite's aerial prowess. It makes little sense for Dipanda to mark Justin as he had already netted a couple of headed goals and someone who is better in the air could have been given the responsibility. Another loophole in Jamil's planning.
Refereeing once took centre stage in the derby as the man with the whistle Ramaswamy Srikrishna shelled out a couple of controversial decisions. Jaime Colado should have been sent-off after he held Dipanda's neck and thrust it towards the ground in an off-the-ball incident. On another occasion Dipanda was seen clamouring for a penalty after he was brought down by Borja but Srikrishna waved play on.
If we keep aside the ifs and buts then East Bengal deservingly picked up the three points. They are five points adrift of league leaders Chennai City with 25 and all eyes now will be on the match in Srinagar where surprise package Real Kashmir host Chennai City later in the day. If Chennai City slip against Kashmir, the title race will be flung wide open.