The Red and Gold continue their search for a maiden I-League crown.
With a new look to themselves, Kolkata giants East Bengal are rearing to go in the forthcoming season of the I-League. It will be a do-or-die season for the Red and Gold as well as the newly appointed coach Khalid Jamil, both of whom will be trying their best to lift the curse of not winning the I-League since 2003-04 season and with all the new blood rushing in, this might be the biggest chance for them to turn the corner.
Last Season’s Performance
Despite starting the season brightly and eventually topping the table, the Kolkata giants missed out on the I-League trophy once again. The Red and Gold Brigade were forced to go down to the third position in the league standings, leaving the top two places to Aizawl FC and arch-rivals Mohun Bagan. As a result, the East Bengal head coach Trevor Morgan was relieved of his duties with the season still at hand as assistant coach Ranjan Chowdhury took charge of the final few games. East Bengal finished their season with 33 points, three points less than city rivals Bagan and four fewer points than champions Aizawl.
In their pre-season this year, East Bengal played against a handful of ISL sides. The Red and Gold Brigade kicked off their first pre-season with a friendly against former I-League rivals Bengaluru FC on 25th October, which they drew 1-1, courtesy to the Blues’ last-minute equalizer by Miku. East Bengal faced BFC once again in two days later on 27th October, but were defeated by a 3-1 margin against the Blues, who dominated the Kolkata side.
After the two matches against the Karnataka side, East Bengal played two more friendly games against ISL sides FC Pune City and Jamshedpur FC on 30th October and 10th November respectively. The Khalid Jamil coached side were defeated against the Pune franchise 2-1, whereas they rose victorious against Jamshedpur FC as they outplayed Steve Coppell’s with a 1-3 margin.
Jamil will look to bring East Bengal their first I-League title
After last season’s debacle under head coach Trevor Morgan, East Bengal appointed Aizawl’s I-League winning coach Khalid Jamil. The former Mumbai FC coach joined the Kolkata giants before the Calcutta Football League and has already pocketed some silverware as his side won the 39th CFL title this year.
Jamil has introduced a very different style of play since taking charge of the Kolkata based side. His gameplay starts from the heart of a compact defence before the ball is pushed forward by overlapping full-backs with the central midfielders and striker joining the raid on the other side of the field. Jamil’s gameplay, despite being full of goals so far has been criticized as well by pundits. The century-old club’s defeats in pre-season opened up his side’s vulnerabilities against deep sitting and counter-attacking sides in particular.
Since last season’s breakdown in the final weeks of the I-League, East Bengal have overhauled their squad. Several players from last season’s starting XI have left the side or were released by the club and joined ISL franchises. However, with Jamil and his influence at their disposal, East Bengal have successfully recruited some of the most exciting youngsters in the country.
Ins: East Bengal went out for fresh blood as they scouted out Mirshad Michu and Joby Justin from the Kerala Premier League. The Kolkata giants roped in defender Salam Ranjan Singh from Bengaluru FC. Lalramchullova, Mahmoud Amnah, Laldanmawia Ralte were brought into the fold from Aizawl. Charles De Souza and Richard Costa came from Chennai City FC and Churchill Brothers respectively. Katsumi Yusa and Eduardo Ferreira were brought in after arch-rivals Bagan decided against renewing his contracts for this season. Some other recruits also made their way to the squad, who are Gabriel Fernandes, Deepak Kumar and Bajo.
Outs: East Bengal primarily lost their star players to ISL franchises. Rehenesh TP, Narayan Das, Rahul Bheke, Jackichand Singh, David Lalrinmuana, Romeo Fernandes, Rowlin Borges, Mehtab Hossain, Abhinas Ruidas, T.Haokip and Robin Gurung were all picked up by ISL franchises in the draft and Ivan Bukenya and Wedson Anselme were released by the club.
Formation and Tactics
How East Bengal could lineup this season
With an overhauled squad at their disposal, East Bengal have been displaying a rather new gameplay since Jamil took over as the head coach of the club. He has been experimenting with variations of a 4-1-4-1 formation in the pre-season, which he used extensively against both BFC and Jamshedpur FC. Although, the squad does not yet have a no.1 goalkeeper as new recruit Mirshad and veteran custodian Luis Barreto are expected to take turns under the bars. Arnab Mondal and Ferreira are expected to be the first choice centre-back partnership in the forthcoming I-League while Gurwinder Singh is all set to deputize for the pair whenever needed. Salam Ranjan Singh and Lalramchullova are expected to start as the right and left full-backs respectively, playing behind Danmawia and Brandon as the wingers upfront. In the midfield, Bajo is set to don the Red and Gold kit as the defensive midfielder with Katsumi and Al-Amnah playing attacking midfielders. Plaza is preferred over Charles by Khalid Jamil and is set to start as the lone striker despite a disappointing last season in the I-League, with Surabuddin and Suhair being the covers for the Trinidadian forward.
A more or less perfect balance of experience and youth in the squad, the Kolkata giants have shown several strong points of their outfit in the CFL and in their pre-season friendlies. Under the coaching of Jamil, an eye-catching aerial play has been noticed by fans and pundits alike, as has the extensive defensive display which could see them become one of the best defensive units in the league. With a solid holding player in midfield in Bajo and two experienced midfielders in Al-Amnah and Katsumi, the midfield seems in great shape before the I-League.
Although not a season-ending problem, the side have looked vulnerable against deep sitting and counter-attacking teams previously. Jamil’s approach to the game has made it difficult for the team to break down compact defences as was seen against the likes of Bengaluru FC in pre-season. Also, the performances of Willis Plaza stay a headache for the East Bengal faithful considering his outing in the league last season.
Top 3 Players to Watch
Al-Amnah will be a key figure in East Bengal’s midfield this season
A midfield general of sorts for Aizawl last season, Jamil used his influence to rope the midfielder into East Bengal after the I-League winning coach was appointed as the head coach of the Kolkata giants. Amnah, the Syrian midfielder has established himself as one of the most trustworthy midfielders in the country now with his sense of passing and distribution of the ball. The 34-year-old midfielder is also known for his interceptions, which he had displayed in a blissful manner in the Calcutta Football League. If everything goes according to plan, Amnah signing could be a masterstroke for both East Bengal and Jamil in a successful I-League campaign this year.
One of the most experienced and skilful foreign players plying their trade in India at the moment. Katsumi Yusa constituted the nucleus of Bagan for several seasons, playing alongside Sony Norde until last season. A versatile player, Katsumi can operate as a winger, a central midfielder as well as a second striker which is expected to help East Bengal hugely in the coming season. The Japanese midfielder is also known for his passing abilities, which help the playmaker to play forward balls and even occasionally score for his team.
One of the veteran defenders for his side, Gurwinder Singh is set to become the backbone of the East Bengal defence this season with the departure of several of his teammates from last season. Singh, with his physical approach to the game has been making his name as one of the toughest tacklers in Indian football, which will compliment his side beautifully in the upcoming season. The Punjabi defender is also habituated to playing with a ball playing defender, which will provide the necessary freedom for Ferreira to charge forward at times.
What to Expect
With one of the most reputed Indian coaches at the helm, the East Bengal Ultras are certainly in for a treat this season. With his first season with East Bengal in the I-League, Jamil will look to break the duck by winning the I-League this time.