The first Kolkata Derby of I-League 2018-19 season is upon us as East Bengal and Mohun Bagan gear up for the marquee clash of Indian football on Sunday. The arch-rivals have already faced each other once in this season in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) 2018. The match ended in a 2-2 draw at the Salt Lake Stadium.
A mouthwatering and neck-to-neck affair is expected this Sunday as both the Kolkata giants are in dire need of a win. While East Bengal are in the sixth position in the league table with nine points from six matches, Mohun Bagan are two spots below with the same number of points. Thus, it is a must win game for both sides as a draw or a defeat would further worsen their chances of winning the league this year.
Ahead of the big game, both teams are under great distress as several big names are likely to miss the match from either camp.
Mohun Bagan’s Sony Norde, Pintu Mahata and Sukhdev Singh are currently injured. While Pintu and Sukhdev are ruled out of the match, their star player Norde has a 50-50 chance of taking part in the derby.
Pintu Mahata was a revelation for the Mariners this season during the CFL 2018. The youngster caught several eyeballs with his impressive displays and had also scored a goal in the Kolkata derby in CFL. Mahata’s absence comes as a huge blow for Sankarlal Chakraborty.
Former Minerva Punjab defender Sukhdev Singh joined Mohun Bagan after a lot of turmoil and drama. The initial transfer-related issue with East Bengal also resulted in a ban for the defender but later it was revoked. Sukhdev was expected to get registered with the club on December 11 and was all set to take part in the derby. But his sudden injury has spoilt all plans. Sukhdev would have been a good addition into the Bagan defence alongside Eze Kingsley which has underperformed so far in the league.
Sony Norde suffered a groin injury last week and it seems it will take another one or two days before the Haitian returns to regular training. A decision is pending on whether Norde will be utilised in the derby.
Unlike Mohun Bagan, East Bengal have just one injury concern and that is star striker Enrique Esqueda. The Mexican forward injured himself after just six matches for his new club. The striker suffered a rib injury during their last match against Gokulam Kerala and had to be substituted at half-time.
The medical reports now suggest that he has a hairline fracture on one of his ribs and will likely remain out of action for at least six to eight weeks. Enrique’s injury right before derby comes as a huge blow for Alejandro Menendez’s side as he was a vital cog in East Bengal attack.
East Bengal have been plagued with injuries since the beginning of the I-League. First, midfielder Mahmoud Al Amna suffered a back injury after coming back gtom the pre-season camp in Malaysia. Amna never fully recovered and was recently released by the club.
With Enrique out of action, The Red and Golds will be able to field only four foreigners. The only good news is that new Spanish winger Jaime Colado will complete his contractual formalities on Friday and will be ready for the derby.
It will be interesting to see how Alejandro and Sankarlal cope with the injury situation and formulate their strategies for this high voltage clash.