Indian football’s two Goliath’s renew hostilities in one of world football’s greatest rivalries and its rightful home is once again the perfect setting.

Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, the two pillars of Indian football are set to face each other on Sunday in the season’s first Kolkata Derby at the Salt Lake Stadium.

Why it Matters?

The derby is one of the most storied fixtures in not only Indian, but world football and is being played for over the past 100 years, between the bitter-rivals who are separated by just a few miles in the City of Joy. Both teams have huge and dedicated fan bases around the world. Both clubs represent a specific class of Bengali people, Mohun Bagan represents people existing in the western part of Bengal (known as Ghotis), while East Bengal is primarily supported by people hailing from the eastern part of pre-independence Bengal province (known as Bangals).

This year the derby has taken on added significance with this likely to be the last season of the I-League in its present form and with both clubs seeking one last league title. It is especially significant for the Red and Gold who are craving a maiden league crown

In the last I-League campaign, East Bengal could not get the better off their arch-rivals in both games playing out a goalless stalemate in their home game and losing 1-2 in the return leg (both matches being held in Siliguri). The Red and Gold failed to restore pride in the Federation Cup as well losing 0-2 in Cuttack.

Coming back to Sunday’s high-voltage game, both teams have played one game each before facing each other. Mohun Bagan played out a 1-1 stalemate against Minerva Punjab in Ludhiana while East Bengal played out a 2-2 draw against Aizawl FC at home. Sony Norde was on the scoresheet for Bagan against the Punjab outfit while Eduardo Ferreira and Katsumi Yusa named themselves as the scorers for the Red and Gold brigade against the champions.

If we look into the current standings in the points table East Bengal are placed third, courtesy a better goal difference from their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan who are sitting fifth in the points table.

Mohun Bagan Playing XI:

How Mohun Bagan could lineup in the Kolkata Derby

Mohun Bagan gaffer Sanjoy Sen is expected to make a few changes to the playing XI that played out a 1-1 draw against Minerva. In the right wing-back position, Gurjinder Kumar is set to make way for Arijit Bagui, who is an outright choice in that position. The Punjabi lad, Gurjinder has played the whole of his career in Pune FC and Salgaocar as a left-back but suddenly trying him as a right-back against MPFC proved to be real flop for the I-League winning coach as he failed to go for the overlaps when required and was unable to move quickly down the right when needed. Otherwise,  the two center-backs Kingsley Obumneme and Kinshuk Debnath are set to retain their places with Ricky Lallawmawma in the left wing-back position.

In the heart of the central midfield, Shilton D’Silva will retain his place with fit-again Yuta Kinowaki. Diogo Ferreira is yet to return from an upset stomach. This means Sanjoy Sen is already going into this high-profile derby without his full quota of foreigners again. On the flanks, skipper Sony Norde will start as always on the left but Chesterpaul Lyngdoh will make way for fit ‘Derby-Boy’ Azharuddin Mallick who was out for a long time due to a knee injury. Chesterpaul was taken by Bagan with a lot of promise after his scintillating performances for Churchill Brothers in the last I-league. Lyngdoh off quite well for Bagan in the CFL scoring three goals and a few assists against weak opponents, but in the I-league it’s a whole different story. The winger failed to overtake his markers and MPFC’s wing-backs due to his short stature and lack of physicality which is why Azhar is being preferred in that position.

Upfront, Sen will depend on the duo of Cameroonian Dipanda Dicka and Liberian Kromah Aggogo. Kromah will play as a roaming midfielder with a free role, helping Dicka when the ball is in the zone and when needed coming back to help the defenders. Shilton Paul will stand under the bars as their custodian.

East Bengal Playing XI:

How East Bengal could lineup in the Kolkata Derby

Khalid Jamil is popularly known as the players’ coach in Indian football. Whatever be the result, he will never blame his players directly in the media or publicly, rather be taking the burden on his own shoulders. Jamil does not like to do a lot of chopping and changing with the squad until and unless he is forced to do so. In his stint as East Bengal coach so far its quite obvious he is not going to change his first XI much. After leading 2-0 till the 80th minute against Aizawl FC in the opening game his team’s lapse in concentration saw them concede two late goals.

After the match, a lot of people criticized Khalid’s strategy in setting up the defensive line where he kept India’s most experienced defender Arnab Mondal out of the eighteen and kept Gurwinder Singh on the bench. Rather, he gave young Manipuri lad Salam Ranjan Singh a start with Eduardo in the center-back position. In the derby, Mondal will get the skipper’s armband back and is set to get back to his original position partnering Eduardo in the heart of defense. Mehtab Singh looked very ordinary in the right full-back position as he is a naturally a center-back and he was getting blocked by the left full-back whenever he was trying to overlap.

Keeping this in mind, Khalid will shift Salam Ranjan to the right full-back position as Bagan’s engine Sony Norde will operate from the left and Salam being very successful as full back during his stint in Bengaluru FC and India U-23, he will rely a lot on the Manipuri lad to mark Sony and deny him from getting those curling shots inside the box and he will also fulfill the U-22 quota. In the left full-back, Deepak Kumar will retain his place after a good display against Aizawl FC.

In the heart of midfield, Bazzou will retain his place as a defensive blocker while Amnah and Katsumi will play as a roaming medio just to keep the Bagan’s defenders in disarray whom to mark. Brandon will start on the left flank and Danamaiwa if fit will start on the right. Otherwise, Rafique will retain his place and Katsumi will move to the right or left. Danmaiwa and Brandon will exchange positions regularly to fox the Bagan wing-backs. Upfront, Willis Plaza will start as a single striker and Mirshad will retain his place as the custodian.

Also Read

Here’s how you can buy tickets to the first Kolkata Derby of the season

The future stars who will play for the Kolkata I-League clubs this season

5 reasons why East Bengal can win the I-League this season

5 reasons why Mohun Bagan can win the I-League this season

The Story of Asia’s Greatest Rivalry – Mohun Bagan vs. East Bengal – Kolkata Derby 

The System

Mohun Bagan: The Green and Maroon brigade is expected to start with a 4-4-1-1 formation with Sony and Azhar will shift alternatively on the flanks if goals do not come early while Kromah will play just behind Dipanda Dicka as a roaming medio and is considered the most important position in modern football nowadays as he have to take a lot of workload supporting Dicka upfront and the when needed coming down in support of Shilton or rainier when either of the two will move up.

In the second half depending on the score-line (if it’s a stalemate), Sanjoy Sen will replace Raynier or Shilton with Narohari Shrestha upfront partnering Dicka and he will move to 4-1-3-2 with a single blocker in the defensive midfield. Sony, Azhar Dicka, Kromah and Narohari will keep on hunting inside the East Bengal penalty zone and keep on attacking the opponent box to get that much-needed goal.

East Bengal: Khalid Jamil will start with his known-to-all formation of 4-1-4-1 with Salam Ranjan and Deepak Kumar on wing backs and Eduardo and Arnab positioning themselves on the heart of the defense. Bazzou will start as a single blocker while Amnah and Katsumi will play the role of the engine and a lot will depend on the combination of Amna and Katsumi on the center of the midfield, how they jell and combine themselves. Their combination may decide the fate of the derby. Brandon and Danmawia will switch on the flanks supplying a lot to Plaza upfront.

In the second half, a goalless result may force Khalid to come out of his comfort zone and move to a 4-4-2 formation replacing Bazzou with Charles and the Brazilian will partner Willis Plaza upfront and the duo of Katsumi and Amnah helping the forwards. East Bengal’s advantage in the derby would be the workload which Katsumi can take in the midfield while in attacks as well as while defending coming down to help out the four backs.

Broadcast: The match will be telecasted live on Star Sports 2 and Star Sports HD 2 as well as in Hotstar and Jio TV from 2 pm on Sunday.