The alarm bells have already started ringing at the Leslie Claudius Sarani in Kolkata as East Bengal have gone down in two successive matches in the I-League. General secretary and board member of Quess East Bengal FC, Kalyan Majumdar did not mince words to express his dissatisfaction after the 3-2 loss against Aizawl FC.
"What can we do? We were bound to lose. They played better football and won the match. We could not play well," Majumdar was quoted saying to a vernacular publication.
In the losses to Chennai City and Aizawl FC, East Bengal were second best in midfield. Kamalpreet Singh and Lalrindika Ralte have not impressed while being played out of position in central midfield. If Nestor Gordillo and Sandro Rodriguez outclassed them at their own backyard, it was David Lalrinmuana and Paul Ramfangzauva who got the better of them in Aizawl. On both occasions, they were outplayed and a visible discord in the link-up play between the midfielders and the two strikers up-front is apparent.
Both Singh and Ralte lack the ability to dictate proceedings in midfield. Ralte is an attacking midfielder by trade and Kamalpreet is a right-back. Both of them are out of their depth in the middle of the park. While Kamalpreet might help in winning possession back, Ralte is not going to help the build-up play by passing the ball around well.
In the first half, Aizawl were pressing higher up the pitch which troubled East Bengal's efforts to play out from the back. The midfield duo were constantly getting outnumbered and the Red and Golds were guilty of giving away cheap possession.
Singh must shoulder the blame for Aizawl's opener as well. After CK Ubaid parried away a close range shot from Lalrinfela, the loose ball fell right in front of Singh who should have cleared the ball. But the former Minerva Punjab man reacted late which allowed Leonce Dodoz to come from behind and push the ball into an open net.
Ralte was lucky to escape a red card as the midfielder did not curb his tendency to make rash challenges despite of being on a yellow. Coach Alejandro Menendez had no option but to throw in Kassim Aidara for Ralte. Interestingly, Aidara is known for his defensive abilities rather than the playmaking ones.
Enrique Esqueda had to drop deep on a number of occasions to be that missing link between midfield and attack. As a consequence, Jobby Justin was operating as the lone striker which only made things easier for Hmingthanmawia and makeshift centre-back Alfred Jaryan. Although he scored the equaliser, the Kerala striker missed two glaring opportunities in the first half which highlights his inconsistency.
East Bengal missing Mahmoud Al-Amna
The Syrian midfielder might hold the key to East Bengal's ongoing crisis. Out with a back injury with no definite date of his return, Amna seems to be the missing piece of the jigsaw. The 35-year-old player is not getting younger but still possess the quality to change the complexion of a game single-handedly. He has all the requisite qualities to control the tempo of the game and help in the transition from midfield to attack.
East Bengal were suffering in the opening couple of fixtures during the Calcutta Football League 2018 and former coach Subhash Bhowmick had to turn to Amna to infuse life to his midfield.
On his return, the former Aizawl player can slot into a number 10 role behind Justin and Esqueda which can be a possible solution for East Bengal's lack of creativity. His exceptional work-rate will also ensure that Singh and Ralte will have another team-mate to fight alongside them.
But East Bengal cannot afford to wait for his return. All eyes are on Menendez as the fans eagerly wait for a turnaround in East Bengal's performance. Can the former Real Madrid Castilla manager pull out something from his hat which will deliver three points against the defending champions Minerva Punjab on December 4? Let's wait and watch.