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East Bengal gather more steam, Bengaluru FC slip again

East Bengal - 10/10

East Bengal extended their winning streak to six matches with a professional 3-0 win over Chennai City, just four days after an easy 2-0 win over Mumbai FC. Chennai began the match with a clever 5-3-1-1 formation that appeared to stretch East Bengal, but once the home side started bossing the midfield, it became easier to make inroads into the Chennai defence. Wedson Anselme and Willis Plaza were on target yet again, and Lalrindika Ralte chipped in with a penalty conversion late in the match to ensure East Bengal finished the game with a further enhancement to their goal difference. Two clean sheets in the week's victories add a further shot of confidence going into the big derby against Mohun Bagan.

Shillong Lajong - 8/10

Shillong Lajong continued with their hot streak in home matches, playing and winning four on the trot with a 1-0 win over Churchill Brothers. This was a difficult one, though, as there were chances for goals at both ends, and the scoreline might have been more inflated but for a terrific day in goal for both Vishal Kaith and his opposite number Priyant Kumar Singh. Lajong would do well to iron out some flaws in their defence that were exposed by the likes of Anthony Wolfe and Chesterpaul Lyngdoh. They have a fifth home game coming up, though, and on current form they will back themselves to make it five-in-a-row against DSK Shivajians.

Mohun Bagan - 8/10

Mohun Bagan returned to winning ways -- they have now gone 10 months since facing their last defeat in a nationwide football competition -- with a thrilling 3-2 win over Aizawl FC. Mohun Bagan were attractive moving forward despite missing a key player in Sony Norde, but their defence was shaky again, split once in open play and once from a corner. There was some lenient refereeing as well to thank, as some cynical tackles by defenders in the closing stages of the game failed to attract the referee's censure. That discipline will have to be at its best in the upcoming match against East Bengal, which could well be one of two legs that determine the fate of the championship this season.

Aizawl FC - 7/10

Khalid Jamil's Aizawl FC have been one of the best teams of the I-League this season, and they showed it yet again in a spirited performance away to Mohun Bagan. Falling behind within the first two minutes to a superb effort from Darryl Duffy could easily have deflated the visitors, but they hit back with an even better team goal to equalise. They would also cancel out a Jeje Lalpekhlua goal, with Ashutosh Mehta showing his aerial prowess off a Jayesh Rane corner. Mehta was guilty of nudging Katsumi Yusa in the last stages of the match, one that the Japanese midfielder milked for all its worth, and that allowed Mohun Bagan to sneak in a win against the run of play. Some of the work in midfield between the likes of Lalmuankima, Kamo Bayi, Rane and Alfred Jaryan was sublime, though Aizawl's defensive chinks have been getting exposed in recent matches, with five of the eight goals they have conceded coming across two of their last three matches.

Minerva Punjab - 7/10

February has started well for the debutants Minerva Punjab this season, with two matches against two pedigreed opponents producing four points. If the match against Churchill Brothers was more about determined defending and playing a relatively error-free match, it was the youngsters who stepped up against Mumbai FC to lead Minerva to their first ever win in the history of the league. Baoringdao Bodo and Anirudh Thapa have a combined age of 36 years, but they showed good poacher's instincts in putting the home side 2-0 ahead. The contribution of the foreign players was sizeable too, with Ivan Filatov holding the midfield up well to complement Victor Amobi's work on the right flank and Loveday Okechukwu looking solid in defence. All of those are good signs for Surinder Singh's team as the league wears on.

Churchill Brothers - 6/10

Churchill Brothers will be kicking themselves for some poor finishing in their 1-0 defeat to Shillong Lajong. Set up to play the perfect counter-attacking game, the visiting side played a compact formation and stuck to their tactics of frustrating the speedy Lajong players. Defenders Rowilson Rodrigues, Adil Ahmed Khan and Keenan Almeida tracked back regularly to maintain control over the Lajong frontline, while Robert Costa often ventured forward to support Anthony Wolfe and Chesterpaul Lyngdoh. There was an error from the otherwise superb Priyant Kumar Singh in goal that spoiled what could have been a well-earned point in a tough away game for the two-time champions.

Bengaluru FC - 6/10

Bengaluru FC have lost a bit of ground in recent weeks, but showed some positives in a 2-2 draw with DSK Shivajians away. Sunil Chhetri scored for the third time in as many matches, having scored once in the AFC Champions League qualifier defeat to Al Wehdat in Jordan, and Albert Roca's team showed grit and tenacity in the face of a 2-0 deficit in an away game to salvage a point. They are now behind league leaders East Bengal by nine points, though they have a game in hand, and cannot afford to drop any more points, especially in matches against teams in the top half of the table.

DSK Shivajians - 6/10

DSK Shivajians could be said to have had a mixed week in the I-League, beginning with a 1-0 defeat away to Aizawl FC. They did pick themselves up in a better home performance against Bengaluru FC, but allowed a Salam Ranjan Singh goal late in injury time to miss out on their first I-League win over Bengaluru in three attempts. Nonetheless, Dave Rogers and his team are picking up momentum in each round and importantly playing their home stretch well. Holicharan Narzary scoring goals is also a good sign for the Pune-based team.

Chennai City - 5/10

Chennai City made a bright start to their demanding away match to East Bengal, even venturing forward with reckless abandon on a few occasions. The defence was being held together well by Dharmaraj Ravanan, but once East Bengal saw their first goal come through, it was difficult for Chennai to stem the tide.

Mumbai FC - 5/10

Beaten 2-0 by East Bengal in midweek, Mumbai missed the services of the injured Victorino Fernandes against Minerva Punjab. His replacement Karan Sawhney gave them one of the highlights of the match, but by then the match was over as a contest as Mumbai fell to their fifth straight loss. Mumbai were disorganised in defence again, and punished by two of the youngest players on the pitch. Even the inclusion of World Cupper Densill Theobald in midfield has not enabled Mumbai to exert more pressure on opponents, and the forwardline is far too dependent on the wings. The two wins to begin the campaign have given them a cushion when it comes to staying clear of the relegation zone, but they need to stem the tide of defeats, especially against teams like Minerva that might eventually fight with them for those spots.

Biggest movers of the week

Shillong Lajong have had another profitable week in the I-League, the only team other than East Bengal to have won both their games through the week. They now occupy fourth place, just a point behind regional rivals Aizawl FC and two ahead of Bengaluru FC.

Best goal of the week

It was a goal straight out of a video game, when Aizawl FC brought the score back to 1-1 against Mohun Bagan. Lalmuankima played a through ball, waiting perfectly to see that Kamo Bayi was in an onside position as he sprinted to keep the ball in play. The Mohun Bagan defence prepared to face a shot from Bayi, but he selflessly pulled the ball back for an onrushing Jayesh Rane, who slotted the ball home in the calmest of finishes. The simplicity of the goal was only bettered by the audacity of pulling it off when trailing at the home of the former champions.

Player of the week

Darryl Duffy is a man who understands Indian football better than most, and his experience is helping Mohun Bagan in their consistent run this year. The Scotsman brought up his fifth and sixth goal of the campaign against Aizawl FC, the first a perfectly executed low header early in the match, and the second a good penalty conversion in the closing stages. Duffy also helped his team-mates keep their head in a volatile finish to the match, taking the ball out wide and directing traffic in injury time to ensure Aizawl weren't given any chance to score a late equalizer.