The fifth round of the I-League begins with a match on January 24 in Pune between DSK Shivajians and Mohun Bagan. The 2015 champions may have been given an early game to prepare for their AFC Cup qualifying preliminary away to Colombo FC of Sri Lanka on January 31, though the same day Bengaluru FC will be playing their AFC Champions League away to Al Wehdat of Jordan.
The other four matches of this round will only be played between Friday, January 27 and Sunday, January 29, and ESPN will carry a consolidated preview piece later on in the week.
DSK Shivajians v Mohun Bagan
Tuesday, January 24, 7 pm
Pld - 2, L - 1, D-1, GF - 3, GA - 5
DSK Shivajians are beginning to show some form in the last couple of matches they have played, and they welcome the form team of the ongoing league in Mohun Bagan in what will be their fourth consecutive home game. They began that sequence with a disappointing defeat to East Bengal, but then picked themselves up to beat Chennai City FC 2-0, a match in which Juan Quero scored his first goal of the season, as did North Korean striker Kim Song Yong. Song Yong continued scoring in the next game, against Churchill Brothers, but the Shivajians were left to rue a lapse in concentration in the 86th minute, which enabled Adil Ahmed Khan to score the equaliser for the Goan club.
Coach Dave Rogers would nevertheless be enthused by the consistency shown in goal by Soram Poirei, the solidity in defence from centre-back Sasa Kolunija, and the talented midfielder Rohit Kumar. They are yet to get a big contribution from Lallianzuala Chhangte and Indian Super League's star performer for Delhi Dynamos Milan Singh, and if the quality of players they have on their roster start pulling their weight more consistently, this team could be one of the tricky opponents this season. Mohun Bagan have had the perfect start to the league, recording wins in each of their first four matches.
Getting goals has not been a problem, with Scotsman Darryl Duffy leading the way with four goals, and Jeje Lalpekhlua on three goals. It must be said that Bagan's first four matches have been the easiest possible, with two debutants and one reinstated team in the league among their opponents. Shivajians might pose the sternest test yet for Sanjoy Sen's team, who were stretched in the course of their 2-1 win over the weekend in Chennai.
The defensive partnership between Eduaro Ferreira and Bikramjit Singh showed some gaps in communication in the previous game, but Sen might be tempted to go back to the tried and tested Anas Edathodika to shore up the defence in this last game before their AFC Cup match. Bagan's biggest weapon in this game could turn out to be Haitian winger Sony Norde, the highest scorer in the two games played last season between the sides, including both goals in a 2-0 win in Pune for the Kolkata club.
Stats courtesy Gautam Roy, football historian and media manager of East Bengal football club.