With East Bengal and Mohun Bagan set to face off in the second Kolkata Derby of the season, Khel Now looks at the tactical approach of both teams going into this pivotal tussle…

The much anticipated Kolkata Derby is set to take place on 9th April, when the two giants of Indian football take center stage at the Kanchenjunga Stadium, Siliguri. Both teams are still in the hunt for the prestigious I-League title this season and with only four games remaining, nothing but three points will be what they would be looking for.

The hosts, Mohun Bagan, are in red hot form after  two dominating wins in the span of a week against formidable opponents, while East Bengal have stuttered in their hunt for the title with poor performances in the last few weeks before the international break. The Mariners have put their feet on the peddle at the right end of the season and their impressive recent form makes them the favorites heading into this hotly contested derby.

The most recent Kolkata Derby which took place in February was a bland affair as the game ended in a goalless draw with scarce opportunities. The two teams are separated by only three points currently, Bagan having played a game less. The Green-and-Maroons will look to close the gap on league leaders Aizawl FC and overthrow their bitter rivals from second position. This win could usher the Mariners into going all the way this season, as they are yet to play the leaders at their stadium and the boost they could get from a win could be vital for them in the long run.

Mohun Bagan are likely to miss the services of promising winger Kean Lewis and midfielder Pronay Halder, players who didn’t feature in their AFC Cup Win over Abahani Limited Dhaka and aren’t likely to feature in the derby either. Nonetheless, with their red hot form and star players clicking at the right time, the Mariners will be confident going into this match and will hope to get the bragging rights with a victory against their bitter rivals.




How East Bengal Attack
How Mohun Bagan Defend


Easily the best attacking side in the I-league this season, East Bengal have plundered 25 goals in the 14 games they’ve played, higher than any other team. Well led by Willis Plaza who has scored seven goals, the Red-and-Golds tend to play 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 according to the players available at their disposal. With Plaza fit and back in the fray, East Bengal are expected to bomb the Mohun Bagan box with the powerful troika of Robin Singh, Plaza and new recruit Chris Payne.

With Mehtab Hossain a certain starter, Lalrindika Ralte and Mohammed Rafique will be expected to add the steel in the midfield. The captain and Rafique will be given the extra responsibility of delivering crosses into the opposition box to help the tall strikers. Playing a fluid system, Payne and Plaza will be asked to operate from the left and right respectively while Singh will be entrusted with giving Anas Edathodika and Eduardo Fereira a hard time at centre-back.

If Trevor Morgan wishes to have added defensive cover, he might field Rowlin Borges parallel to Hossain and play a 4-2-3-1 with Robin as the marksman. Plaza will then play in the No. 10 role for the Reds-and-Golds and Ralte and Rafique will man the wings. Both the ploys can be effective if the team converts the bucket load of chances it creates. It will be interesting to see what ploy the Englishman applies when his side takes the field on Sunday for the much-awaited second Kolkata Derby of the season.

Long throws can be a Plan C for East Bengal as both Rahul Bheke and Robert Lalthlamuana are known to possess good, powerful throws into the opposition box from the wings.

While there has been much praise towards the way Bagan have excelled as an attacking side this season, the team has been quite sound defensively as well and have six clean sheets so far from their 13 games in the league.

The Mariners have a relatively strong defensive structure as the central partnership of Edathodika and Ferreira have been a rock at the back. Edathodika has been their best defender since his signing from Delhi Dynamos, as his intelligent nature and ability to outwit the opposition striker has made it very difficult for anyone to get past him.

While Edathodika and Ferreira do keep mostly to the centre and put an end to any move in that area with their raw strength and superb aerial ability, they are also helped by Sehnaj Singh who has been pretty solid defensively himself and helps out the defense whenever the opponents are threatening the Mariners.

The Mariners full-backs might be suffering from inexperience, but Pritam Kotal’s intelligence and Subashish Bose’s strength gives them an upper hand heading into most games as they can see off most wingers they face. They are also helped by the midfielders as energetic captain Katsumi Yusa and Souvik Chakroborty always track back to help out their defenders and give them added cover.

How East Bengal defend
How Mohun Bagan Attack

East Bengal’s defence has a tendency to fall asleep at critical junctures, a trait which has seen the side lose critical points this season. With the unavailability of Arnab Mondal, Anwar Ali is set to partner the imperious and ever-present Ivan Bukenya in central defence. Bheke and Robert should start as the right and left-back respectively, as both players are known for their adventurousness and are safe in defence against most opposition.

Bukenya will be the leader of the pack with TP Rehenesh making his presence felt under the bar. Gurwinder Singh can also be looked at for his powerful presence to counter the active pair of Balwant Singh and Darryl Duffy. The defence is expected to man-mark Scottish striker Duffy, as he can be a handful if provided any space.

The team has conceded just 11 goals in 14 games so far this season, while keeping five clean sheets. Manager Trevor Morgan will be a happy man if his defence implements the plans on the training pitch successfully and comes out without conceding in this key game. The team has not kept a clean sheet in the last five games and will be hoping to change this trend in the key clash against their arch-rivals.


Mohun Bagan are definitely the best attacking team in the I-League at the  moment, as they have the fortune of having some of the best attacking and creative players in their ranks. The Mariners initiate most of their attacks through their star players Sony Norde and captain Yusa, and these danger men have wreaked havoc for Bagan in the last few games.

Norde has been absolutely lethal, bewildering defenders with his insane trickery and speed which helps Bagan create most of their chances from the left wing. Captain Yusa is the most energetic member of the team and leads from the front as he drifts in between the right side and plays mostly through the middle in his free role to outwit opponents and craft chances for the strikers.

The Mariners are blessed to have quite the terrorizing strike force as the duo of Balwant Singh and Darryl Duffy can give opponents nightmares together. Both strikers are really strong and prolific in the air as well as when it comes to finishing off chances. The Scotsman has been superb for Bagan this season with his excellent finishing and poacher-like instinct and has remained The Mariners’ chief hitman with his superb conversion rate. Duffy’s virtue, mixed with Balwant, who has been in brilliant form recently, can help the Mariners terrorize their rivals defense as these two men complement each other really well in the box and have a terrific eye for goal.

Bagan also have the help of the overlapping full-backs, as Kotal is the most adventurous one in the country and loves to go forward and put in inviting crosses for his strikers to pounce on. The Mariners will need their attacking force to click in order to get maximum points against East Bengal.



Strengths –

East Bengal

East Bengal’s main strength lies in their cohesive football. The team is not dependent on one man for delivering the goods in front of the opposition goal as Singh, Payne and Plaza have all been on the goalscoring charts in recent times. The fact that East Bengal play a smooth inter-changing role at the top helps them baffle opposition defenders and has seen them control the tempo of the game in the attacking third.

East Bengal’s strength in the backline is the towering presence of Bukenya. The Ugandan defender has been one of the best players in the league, bailing out the Reds-and-Golds every time they’ve been in trouble at the back and even up front, with some key goals. Bukenya will be the key man for the visitors as Sanjoy Sen would be looking to bomb the East Bengal box with Balwant Singh and Daryl Duffy.

In the centre, Hossain’s distribution holds the key for East Bengal. The midfielder is one of the most experienced men in Indian football and knows how to win games. He will be key to thwarting the attacking intent of opposition captain Yusa, who tends to drift into the centre while attacking. Ralte will be another midfielder who will hold the key to East Bengal’s link-up play from defence to attack. The captain will want to go down the tunnel a happy man after two disappointing 2-1 defeats in their last two games to Churchill Brothers and Chennai City FC.

Mohun Bagan

Mohun Bagan have remained a terrorizing attacking force this season in the I-League, as they made some superb signings before the season had started and now have a lot of talented personnel in their team. The Mariners’ greatest strength has to be Haitian winger Norde, who has been absolutely amazing ever since coming back from the international break.

His chemistry with Bagan’s relentless, intelligent captain Yusa has been deadly over the past few weeks. Mohun Bagan also have a lot of choices in their striking department, which has helped their chances in the past weeks. With the recent good form of Balwant Singh and Duffy, they look as the Mariners’ greatest threats inside the box right now.

Apart from that, Bagan also have a solid defender with Edathodika, whose presence can be felt every time he’s on the field and one of the best goalkeepers in Indian football in Debjit Majumder, who’ll want to keep another clean sheet for himself against the rivals at the weekend after not being called up to the Indian national team squad.

Weaknesses – 

East Bengal

East Bengal have shown a tendency to switch off at critical junctures this season, which is their main weakness. Also, their link-up play from defence to attack has been painfully slow and no player except Ralte has shown enough promise and creative intelligence to take the ball into the opposition half.

In the absence of Mondal, East Bengal’s defence could easily be attacked with speed as replacement Gurwinder Singh is known for his complacency against pace and Ali for his abysmal defensive maturity and discipline. Rafique can be a liability against physically imposing opposition and Trevor Morgan will need to organize his squad accordingly.

Up ahead, Robin Singh’s indifferent form is something East Bengal will be hoping to end. The former Bengaluru FC striker has blown hot and cold, scoring key goals against his former club but has not been visible in most of the games he has been heavily marked. The burly striker will be hoping to shrug off the rust and convert the chances that come his way.

Mohun Bagan 

Mohun Bagan’s weaknesses have been sugar-coated this season due to their amazing attacking display, but they have some problems in their team they still need to pay attention to. The Mariners might have the best attack in the league, but on some days, their defense is still unconvincing and wobbly, as the inexperience of their full-backs has cost them games in the past few months.

Kotal might be a solid attacker but isn’t fully convincing defensively while Bose is extremely rash for his own good and can give away many free-kicks when he isn’t kept under control. His aggressive side has seen him get booked almost every other match and his attacking side can be the vulnerable area for Bagan with East Bengal having some sizzling wingers of their own.

Chakraborty has also been disappointing in the past few games from a defensive standpoint as the Mariners’ vulnerable full-backs and limited defenders are a glaring weakness which can be exposed on an off day.

East Bengal Key Player: Willis Plaza
Mohun Bagan Key Player: Sony Norde


If East Bengal want to remain in the fray for the I-league title this season, they will hope that Trinidad & Tobago striker Plaza is in ominous mood on Sunday. The striker who featured for his country in the international break will be the man Trevor Morgan will be looking at for both creating and finishing chances. Plaza has an innate ability to run past defenders and his height and skillset gives him the added advantage of making a mockery of any defense on his day. With the kind of fiery speed Plaza possesses, Morgan will be a happy man if he’s in the mood.

The title chase has not been as East Bengal had hoped this season and Plaza will play a key role in reviving their title bid by winning the derby.

Sony Norde has been the force which has kept Mohun Bagan marching on towards the I-League title this season, as the majestic winger has been especially amazing after coming back from the international break. He gave two assists in the Mariners’ trashing of Bengaluru FC last weekend, one in which he sped past almost the entire length of his half to provide for captain Yusa to put the finishing touches.

Norde was amazing in the midweek AFC Cup clash against Abahani Limited where he assisted a goal and deservedly scored one later on. Norde’s amazing speed and dribbling skills inside the box are enough to terrorize any defense and he’ll be the main man for the Mariners in this important derby clash.