The Southerners are in pole position to seal the title, while the Red and Gold will require them to slip up.
Well, it just had to get more exciting! With the title race reaching its climax on the final matchday of the I-League, Chennai City and East Bengal need to edge past their respective opponents to grab a hold of the much-coveted trophy.
With an equal number of wins in their kitty, the only difference between both the sides is a single point. Chennai lead the pack with 40, followed by East Bengal (39). The South Indian outfit face defending champions Minerva Punjab at home, while the Kolkata-based team travel to Kerala to take on Gokulam.
In this article, we at Khel Now bring you what both the Chennai City and East Bengal tacticians had to say in their respective pre-match press conferences.
Akbar Nawas (Chennai City)
Last season, Chennai City finished the table with a meager amount of 19 points, at eighth place. This season, they are favourites to win the title, with only Minerva Punjab standing in their way.
Akbar Nawas started off by asking everyone present to reflect back to how Chennai were six months back, and where the club is now; which infact is a big achievement for a recently founded club. “I think we have performed beyond expectations, and the players deserve the credit,” said Nawas.
He stated, “This game is all about the local players tomorrow. They must see where they were six months ago.”
The South Indian side face a team with a very mean defence. Minerva have just conceded sixteen goals this season, and Chennai need to win the match to make sure that the title is theirs to hold.
“Whatever happens tomorrow, is all a process,” quipped the Chennai gaffer.
Nestor Gordillo has been a crucial player for Chennai, but is out suspended. Regarding this Nawas said, “we will miss him. He is crucial. He has scored nine goals and notched nine assists. So I am bringing 18 starting players tomorrow, not 11 starting players.”
“We have an advantage as it is our harm, but when you face Minerva, the advantage doesn’t play a role,” Nawaz quipped when asked if playing at home could be an advantage.
When asked about the pressure for tomorrow, the Singaporean said that East Bengal will beat Gokulam for sure based on current, so the Chennai players don’t need to worry about anything.
Alejandro Menendez (East Bengal)
With one more game to go, East Bengal are inching closer to the title, but could only grasp it at the expense of Chennai losing to Minerva.
For a game of such capacity, it is necessary to maintain the nerves. Gaffer Menendez said, “We are pretty calm before the game and we are enjoying the moment. We have the support of all the fans and they are motivating us. We have full confidence in the team. They are ready to play against Gokulam Kerala and win. We are really looking forward to the match.”
Star striker Jobby Justin is out suspended, and which could really hurt the Red and Gold Brigade’s title hopes. Regarding this the Spaniard, who recently extended his contract, stated, “We will obviously miss him (Jobby Justin). He is a very good player but we now have to focus on the players who will play tomorrow. Players commit mistake all over the world. He has also committed a mistake and he has apologised.”
If East Bengal edge past their opponents, then it will all be upto Minerva Punjab. The defending I-League champions will play the role of fate for Chennai and the Quess-owned side. The Spanish manager said, “I think Minerva Punjab are a professional team with a great personality. They have shown this several times both on and off the field. I think they will do their best and we will do our best tomorrow. They are the current I-League champions and they know how other teams feel in this type of situation.”
In the absence of Justin, a lot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Enrique Esqueda (atleast in terms of goals). When asked about this, Menendez quipped, “Foreign players are very important for all the I-League teams and our foreign players have done very well. But to us every player is important. Not only who scores goals but also the players who provide the assist. Enrique Esqueda is obviously an important player but other players are also important to us.”
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Chennai City Vs Minerva Punjab
Charles Anandraj is back from injury, and could feature in the roster. Also, Nestor Gordillo is suspended.
The Chandigarh-based side have a fully-fit squad.
Boerchio (GK), Edwin, Bora, Eslava, Kumar, Pandiyan, Kaplan, Ranjeet, Sandro, Vanspaul, Manzi.
Singh, Alhassan, Sangwan, Arashpreet, Quero, Amnah, Akashdeep, Rodriguez, Khan, Amanddeep, Sreyas.
The match will kick-off at 5:00 PM, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. It will be broadcasted live by Star Sports 3, and live streamed by Hotstar and Jio TV.
Gokulam Kerala Vs East Bengal
Castro is suspended, otherwise Gokulam have a full squad.
Other than the suspension of Jobby Justin, the Kolkata-based side have a fully-fit side.
Boerchio (GK), Edwin, Bora, Eslava, Kumar, Pandiyan, Kaplan, Ranjeet, Sandro, Nestor, Manzi.
Dagar (GK), Kamalpreet, Salam Ranjan, Acosta, Lalramchullova, Lalrindika, Colado, Aidara, Brandon, Enrique, Laldanmawia.
The match will kick-off at 5:00 PM, at the EMS Stadium. It will be broadcasted by Star Sports 1, and live streamed by Hotstar and Jio TV.