While the foreigners are amongst the goals it is the domestic contingent of both sides who best understand the significance of the game.
The biggest game of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan’s seasons is almost upon us, as the Kolkata Derby holds a lot of leverage this time around. Not only will the teams be fighting for pride and glory, but a win could also lift one team back into the I-League title race, while a loss could potentially end the dreams of the other.
Both Sankarlal Chakraborty and Alejandro Menendez are under pressure to make their sides perform like the other top teams in the league. Fans might be agitated at both sides’ inconsistency, but all could be forgiven with a big victory in the derby. While all the eyes will be on the foreign stars, the game could be won by the impact the domestic core makes.
When it comes to local, Bengali players, the Mariners have a clear advantage. The likes of Arijit Bagui, Shilton Paul, Sourav Das and Pintu Mahata know exactly how important this fixture is for those in the stands. They’ll have extra motivation to perform well, with Mahata and Bagui looking to recreate the magic which they showcased in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) derby earlier this year.
Jobby Justin and Pintu Mahata will be an integral part of their respective teams in the Kolkata Derby this weekend
While East Bengal’s domestic players might not be off Bengali origin, they’ve played in the state for a long time to know how quintessential winning the match is. Jobby Justin, Lalramchullova and Brandon Vanlalremdika have featured in a few derbies, but this could be their biggest, knowing how important it is for the Red and Gold. East Bengal’s domestic players are also on song, with all three of Justin, Lalramchullova and Brandon netting in their 3-1 win over Gokulam Kerala recently.
It could be argued that East Bengal’s domestic men hold the advantage of owning their dominant win over Kerala recently. However, The Mariners have clearly had their number in recent derbies. The Red and Gold last won a competitive Kolkata Derby in 2016, after which the Mariners have won four out the last six.
For East Bengal, the trio which scored on Saturday and the likes of Lalrindika Ralte, Salam Ranjan Singh and most importantly, goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar will need to step up on Sunday. Ralte produced a fantastic performance against Gokulam with two assists, while Salam Ranjan proved his mettle with a solid showing. Dagar however, looked shaky with the ball and East Bengal frantically need to improve their goalkeeping situation.
For Mohun Bagan, things seemed a bit bleak after their 1-1 draw to Chennai City earlier this month. However, they have had almost two weeks to prepare for the derby and must have tried out different things to hurt East Bengal with. Bagui and Abhishek Ambekar, their new left-back, have been superb defensively and in attack. Lalchhawnkima’s had a topsy-turvy time, but with Sukhdev Singh allegedly injured, he’ll mostly get a start.
Defensively, Mohun Bagan probably pip the battle because of the experience of their defenders and goalkeeper Shilton Paul. Manoj Mohamed will have a lot of pressure in his first senior derby and will need to prove his talent. In midfield, Lalrindika pips Sourav Das in terms of experience and creativity, while the young midfielder prevails on energy and sturdiness.
Laldanmawia Ralte might not be having a prolific time like last season, but Bagan’s Mahata hasn’t really been able to break through himself. Both the wingers have been dangerous at certain points and frustrated fans with their underwhelming performances at others. While Pintu will aim to continue his success in the derby with another blazing performance, Danmawia will look to earn back the trust of fans by contributing to a win.
Not only will the Kolkata Derby be a huge game in terms of the momentum of both the sides, but it will also do a lot of good to the players. The players who perform well and manage to win the game for their side will get a huge boost in confidence, which can allow them to stretch their performance levels to the absolute max. While the foreigners will be the centre of attention, the domestic players will work in their shadows to attain a crucial win for their sides.
Many a legend has been born in the Kolkata Derby over its eventful history. On Sunday, the domestic players for both teams have the chance to immortalize themselves with the fans. With both teams neck-in-neck in form, their domestic players will aim to make their mark and inspire their side to a crucial win.