Mohun Bagan are all set to take on East Bengal in the season's second Kolkata Derby.
However 'Kolkata' remains a misnomer like recent times, with Siliguri the venue for the pivotal contest in Indian football, courtesy the Yuba Bharati Krirangan undergoing renovations for the U-17 World Cup.
Yet the excitement for the derby might be muted owing to East Bengal's poor run of late and internal power tussles, but it's importance in the title fortunes cannot be overstated and is arguably the most crucial it has been in the last five years of the I-League.
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It is also interesting that both teams charted a vastly different path to this stage.
While the Red and Golds were the early pace setters and were the top dogs for a prolonged period, that is no longer the case as a poor recent run of form where they have been defeated three times in their last five matches has meant their descent to the second position as well as sowing seeds of doubt among the players and fans alike.
Mohun Bagan meanwhile began at a fair pace but continental fixtures always meant they were playing a few games less than their nearest competitors. Moreover, the lack of converting draws into wins also cost the side the top spot to Aizawl FC, even though they have only been defeated once this season.
Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal Tactical Preview
Interestingly, while the last 'Siliguri Derby' too ended in a stalemate where Trevor Morgan's men were the designated home team, Sanjoy Sen has an unique record to his name - he has never lost in the I-League at home during his tenure at the Kolkata giants.
However, East Bengal's poor recent form can also be tied down to their missing playmaker - Wedson Anselme who has been by far the best player for Morgan's men. Luckily, Morgan has all his season regulars available to him and looks to start all the foreign recruits with Wedson deployed in his No. 10 role behind the Chris Payne and Willis Plaza duo.
While Plaza has been among the goals and is a fine player in his own regard, with pace to burn and superb dribbling ability, he has often left hsi team and coach frustrated with his profligacy in front of goal and that will be important to overcome against their bitter rivals.
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Morgan will look to line up in his usual 4-4-2 diamond that has worked consistently for him, which might mean Rowllin Borges has to sit out with Mehtab Hossein assuming midfield duties on himself.
Rahul Bheke who would most likely turn up at Right Back will definitely have his work cut out to prevent the super Sony Norde from making the derby his own.
Sony's recent brilliant form is Bagan's strength as well as weakness. The Bagan talisman was absent in the last derby while he was injured in the one last season and looks desperate to stamp his influence in the one place that remains.
Yet, the dependancy on Sony might also mean that if Morgan can stop the influential Haitian, that is half the match won for East Bengal. To prevent that, Sanjoy Sen will need Darryl Duffy who started with a bang to step up.
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Katsumi Yusa who has been the lynchpin of the Mariners, will look to ghost all over the field - defending when his team needs it and popping up to score when required as demonstrated so ably against Bengaluru FC.
The 3-0 win against the reigning champions will give the side a lot of confidence going into the contest and they have enough match fitness having also played recently in the AFC Cup, in comparison to East Bengal last being in action almost a month ago.
Yet the shaky defense of Eduardo Fereira and Anas Edathodika will need to be adequately protected by strongman Sehnaj Singh agains East Bengal's pacy presence up front.
They will be a little short changed in attack because of the lack of U-22 Subashish Bose due to injury which will force Sen to start with Azharuddin Mullick which could work wonders owing to a slow East Bengal defense but that would also mean the absence of either of Balwant Singh or Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Can East Bengal shed their rustiness to end Sanjoy Sen's home streak? Or Will Mohun Bagan record a much needed Derby win to make themselves the prime target to keep pressure on Aizawl?
Whatever happens, both teams will go all in, and it will literally be winners take all in the championship chasing derby.
Kick-off is at 7:05 p.m. IST at the Kanchenjunga Stadium.
EAST BENGAL F.C. Injured:
Injured:Nikhil Poojary, Anwar Ali
Doubtful: Bikash Jairu
Dropped: Arnab Mondal, Cavin Lobo
Key Player: Wedson Anselme
MOHUN BAGAN A.C.
Injured: Subashish Bose, Pranoy Haldar
Doubtful: Kinshuk Debnath
Dropped: Kean Lewis
Key Player: Sony Norde