The Mariners who have been boosted by the return of talisman Sony Norde will look to reclaim the title they last won in 2015.
After a disappointing previous campaign in which they only finished third, Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan go into the new I-League season with renewed optimism. Boosted by the impending return of talisman Sony Norde and a first Calcutta Football League (CFL) success in eight years, the Mariners will now seek another top flight triumph.
Here, we’ll look at how the club is shaping up heading into the new season and their weaknesses, strengths and take an in-depth approach to ascertain what they can provide on the pitch and exactly how far they can go.
Last Season’s Performance
Mohun Bagan did not have a great season in the 2017-18 football calendar. They had a dismal start to their campaign having to bear witness to East Bengal winning their seventh consecutive CFL title in the last game that was played at Siliguri’s Kanchenjungha Stadium.
They did not have a great start to their I League campaign either and following three home draws and a defeat against Chennai City FC, head coach Sanjoy Sen resigned midway through the season. Command of the team fell on Sankarlal Chakraborty’s shoulders, Sen’s assistant.
Bagan finished the season in third place in a topsy-turvy I League campaign that was decided on the very last matchday where all the teams in the top four positions stood chances of winning. Despite not having an ideal season, the Mariners could take comfort in the fact that they beat their arch-rivals East Bengal both home and away and had a decent season even after injuries to key figures like Sony Norde and Yuta Knowaki.
Mohun Bagan had a spectacular pre-season. They managed to end East Bengal’s monopoly in the Calcutta Football League for good as Bagan became undefeated champions. They did not get off to the best of starts as they only managed narrow victories over minnows like George Telegraph and Pathachakra.
The Mariners were held at home by Peerless, who were the eventual runners-up of the league. But, the match against Rainbow, where Bagan came back into the game with some fantastic football after being a goal down turned the script around for them and they went on to achieve their peak in the final stages of the tournament and ended up unbeaten.
The Mariners had an amazing CFL campaign
The CFL campaign saw many highs for Mohun Bagan. Young and local players like Pintu Mahata and Sourav Das have also managed to impress and are vying for spots in the first-team which will always be welcome for Sankarlal. The CFL has also seen Henry Kisekka and Dipanda Dicka form a formidable partnership in attack, whch is bordering telepathic. The duo has been on fire in the final third for Mohun Bagan and a lot would be expected from them this season.
Sankarlal Chakroborty took hold of the reins of the club after Sanjoy Sen resigned in the middle of the 2017-18 I League campaign, following a disappointing start to the season as results weren’t going their way. Sankarlal has done a good job of stabilizing the ship since then. The 42-year-old former player is mild-mannered, quiet and unassuming and strikes quite a contrast to his predecessor Sen.
Chakroborty earned plaudits for tactically outclassing his former employers (when he was a player) East Bengal twice and his astute management also came to the fore during the Calcutta Football League run. He is assisted in his affairs by goalkeeping coach Arpan Dey, physical trainer Samiran Nag, physiotherapist Soumya Bhattacharjee and team manager Satyajit Chatterjee.
The Mariners made a host of signings in the summer to bolster their squad. They roped in 28-year-old forward Kisekka from Gokulam, who has struck a wonderful partnership with Dicka upfront already. Bagan brought home goalkeeper Ricardo Cardozo and midfielder Britto PM from Churchill Brothers. They also purchased two players from reigning champions Minerva Punjab: Abhishek Ambedkar and Sukhdev Singh. Bagan have also made a flurry of signing from ISL clubs.
They got hold of midfielder Darren Caldeira from ATK, Amey Ranawade from FC Goa, Lalchhawnkima and Abhinas Ruidas from Mumbai City FC and Sarthak Golui from FC Pune City. They also bought William Lalnunfela from Aizawl FC. The club have also signed centre-back Dalraj Singh and defensive midfielder Dipankar Das from Peerless.
There were plenty of departures from Bagan this summer. The likes of Bikramjeet Singh, Ricky Lallawmawma, Raynier Fernandes, Soram Anganba, Nikhil Kadam and Sheikh Falaz all jumped ship to move to the Indian Super League. Kingshuk Debnath has joined city rivals East Bengal while goalkeeper Shibinraj Kunniyil has moved to Gokulam FC. Moinuddin Khan failed to impress the coach in the course of his CFL stint and as such, was released by the club. He has since re-joined Minerva.
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Goalkeepers: Shilton Paul, Shankar Roy, Ricardo Cardozo, Mainak Akuli
Midfielders: Shilton D’Silva, Pintu Mahata, Yuta Kinowaki, Darren Caldeira, Abhinas Ruidas, William Lalnunfela, Tirthankar Sarkar, Dipankar Das, Sourav Das, Britto PM, Mehtab Hossain, Omar El Hussieny
Formation and Tactics
Sankarlal Chakraborty likes to play a 4-3-2-1 which can be better viewed as a variant of the 4-4-2 that transitions in shape as the game progresses. New purchase Kisekka often starts behind Dicka who is prolific upfront, but they continue to swap positions and as mentioned before, have hit a telepathic partnership. They now read each other’s positions very well, drift into space to support runs from midfield and organize some fluid play in the final third.
Bagan also like to building from the back patiently with dominance of possession. They however, do like to find phases in the match when the opposition defence can be caught off-guard and in those cases, the centre-backs aim long balls straight at the feet of the attackers.
The wingers often drift into spaces inside the box to provide a goalscoring threat from the middle, as was clearly evident in the goal that Pintu Mahata scored against East Bengal in the CFL’s Kolkata Derby. The arrival of Sony Norde will also bolster the firepower on the left flank and it remains to be seen whether the Haitian has regained complete fitness because when on song, he’s almost unplayable.
This is how the Mariners might field this season
Mohun Bagan’s wing-backs also like to move forward to provide support to the attack and link-up with the midfield. They make energetic runs up and down the flank which has become a common trait for full-backs in the modern game. The wing-backs will also look for spaces to attack when they have no support and often end up putting a lot of crosses into the box, which the likes of Dicka and Kisekka can profit from.
Shilton D’Silva or Sourav Das and Kinowaki are responsible for holding the midfield and the defence together and are in-charge of organising play in the middle of the park. They surge forward when they are dominating possession and the attack needs support and when off-possession, they often switch back to defence either to pressurise, form defensive lines or cover the full-backs.
Mohun Bagan’s biggest strength this year is by far their attack. The duo of Kisekka and Dicka has been on song in pre-season and have amassed 16 of the 28 goals that Bagan scored.
Going into the new season Mohun Bagan will be aiming to start off with a win
Pintu Mahata has been wonderful on the flanks and it remains to be seen whether he can reproduce his astounding CFL form in the I League this season. Bagan have also retained the services of Norde, who has been their best player for quite a few years now. However, the injury he sustained last year was pretty serious and it’ll be interesting to see whether the club’s gamble at keeping him pays off.
The lack of quality on the bench will be Sankarlal’s biggest concern going into the season this year. The likes of Azharuddin Mallick and Jiten Murmu are not remotely good enough when compared to Kisekka and Dicka and rotation will be a complicated issue for Chakraborty, as he needs to make sure his strongest XI gets enough rest as well as enough action. Even in midfield, the lack of bench strength is glaring.
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Players to Watch
Henry Kisekka- Mohun Bagan secured the services of the former Gokulam player this summer and it has already paid off well in the CFL, where Kisekka was on solid form and grabbed his fair share of goals and assists.
Dipanda Dicka- While it’s true that Dicka has been erratic in front of goal lately, but he is a reliable player on the big stage and come I League, he is expected to clinch quite a number of goals for his team that’ll bolster their title winning hopes.
Pintu Mahata- The young Bengali player has been a very positive revelation for Bagan in the CFL this season. Mahata got the better of Johnny Acosta who played in the Russia World Cup and managed to thwart the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Neymar to a goalless draw in a group stage fixture. Pintu has been showing very positive signs and the Bagan management will expect him to adapt to the tests of the I League this season.
What to Expect?
Mohun Bagan are among the clear favourites to win the I League this season. They have a wonderful squad and with the firepower they have in attack, not many teams should put up a strong challenge for them. East Bengal’s squad rebuilding might be a cause of little concern for them, but they did get the better of them in the Calcutta Football League and that’ll buoy Sankarlal’s men to go all the way in the I League as well this season.