<
>

I-League: Kolkata derby headlines eighth-round action

East Bengal v Mohun Bagan

Sunday, February 12, 4:30 pm

Played - 38, W- 15, L - 11, D - 12, GF - 43*, GA - 33

*Includes three goals awarded as a result of Mohun Bagan's forfeiture of the I-League encounter in December 2012.

One of the most tradition-steeped rivalries of Asian football, this clash always provides drama, sometimes even without both teams needing to step on to the pitch. The numbers historically are loaded in favour of East Bengal, victors in 120 of the 315 derbies played till date. They are also arguably the team carrying the better form into this match, with a six-match winning streak since a 1-1 draw in the opening round against Aizawl FC. Both teams have the joint-best defensive record after seven rounds, though East Bengal lead the charts for all teams in goals scored. They have played one game more than both Bagan and Bengaluru FC, their closest rivals on that count.

Expect a cagey contest, with both teams looking to make it tough for the forwards on the other side. East Bengal have the more in-form goal scorers, though, and the individual contests between some of their skillful attacking players and a Bagan backline admittedly low on confidence from recent performances could mean a busy outing for goalkeeper Debjit Majumder. Two years ago, it was his heroics that helped Mohun Bagan to a narrow 1-0 win riding on a Balwant Singh goal, a win that proved crucial as they pipped Bengaluru to the title.

Aizawl FC v Churchill Brothers

Friday, February 10, 2 pm

Never met before

Aizawl FC could well have been level on points or even ahead of Mohun Bagan after an entertaining clash at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium over the weekend. They scored two outstanding goals and in the end paid the price for being wasteful off a few other gilt-edged opportunities they were able to create. Hosting Churchill Brothers will be a tricky proposition against a team that has begun putting in some consistency in their performance over the last fortnight. The former champions' last three matches have resulted in just one narrow defeat to Shillong Lajong, and included a win over the champions Bengaluru FC.

Which Churchill Brothers shows up on the day is hard to predict, but if they play to potential, this could make for one of several entertaining matches in the upcoming round.

Bengaluru FC v Minerva Punjab

Saturday, February 11, 7 pm

Never met before

This could well be the match where Sunil Chhetri goes past Bhaichung Bhutia as the all-time top Indian scorer in NFL/I-League history, but more importantly, this will be one of the stern tests awaiting debutants Minerva Punjab, with their first two matches against genuine title contenders not proving auspicious. They lost 4-0 away to Mohun Bagan and then let in five without reply to East Bengal while playing in Ludhiana.

Expect Minerva to set up as defensively as possible, with the likes of Anirudh Thapa and Baoringdao Bodo hoping to hit Bengaluru on the counter. Bengaluru will be mindful of the fact that though they are theoretically three wins away from the top of the table, they might still find themselves in a race to win it going into the final month. Goal difference will be crucial, and hence expect the champions to be at their ruthless best in their first home game since beating Mumbai FC 3-0 on January 18.

Shillong Lajong v DSK Shivajians

Saturday, February 11, 4:30 pm

Played - 2, D - 2, GF - 2, GA - 2

It's always been even between these two teams, but Shillong Lajong are one of the red-hot form teams of the moment. Shivajians are slowly getting into their groove this season, making their visit to Shillong an enticing prospect. Lajong are scoring freely, with Aser Dipanda on top of the scoring charts with his six goals, all of which have come during the four-match winning streak for Thangboi Singto's team. The younger Indian players have also been coming to the party regularly, and Japanese midfielder Yuta Kinowaki's matchup with the likes of Spaniard Juan Quero could determine the overall tempo of a match between two teams that like to keep possession of the ball.

Chennai City FC v Mumbai FC

Saturday, February 11, 7 pm

Never met before

Chennai City return home after two arduous away games, in which they lost to Shillong Lajong and East Bengal and failed to respond to the combined five goals scored against them. Their last match at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai was a happy one, though, as a 2-0 score line over Aizawl FC saw them record their first win in I-League history. With both Minerva Punjab and Churchill Brothers having left them behind at the bottom of the table, this match against a floundering Mumbai FC presents a great opportunity to climb up the ladder. Mumbai began with two good wins, but since then have lost the plot completely, and have a defensive record that is poorer than all but one of the ten teams. Densill Theobald is yet to make his presence felt in midfield, and the injury to Victorino Fernandes against East Bengal has left them with one less substantial scoring option. Karan Sawhney has been chipping in with goals, but they will need more from the likes of Hitesh Sharma and Steven Dias if they have to arrest their steady downfall.

All stats courtesy Gautam Roy, football historian and media manager of East Bengal football club.