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ISL- Indian Super League

ISL 2023-24 season review: East Bengal

Published at :May 21, 2024 at 9:30 PM
Modified at :May 21, 2024 at 9:30 PM
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(Courtesy : ISL Media)

Uttiyo Sarkar


East Bengal had a much positive ISL season, irrespective of their position in the table.

East Bengal had an eventful 2023-24 season in which they shone in the cup competitions but stumbled in the Indian Super League. The Red & Gold Brigade showed significant signs of improvement under Carles Cuadrat and won the Super Cup title, but issues in particular areas held them back in the top division.

It was a very topsy-turvy season in the ISL for the Kolkata heavyweights. They came up agonizingly short of positive results all through the season and often missed that special spark to guide them to victories. While not helped by some dubious officiating on a few occasions, East Bengal failed to really tap into any kind of winning momentum in the ISL and were often the cause of their own sorrows.

While it was still a better outing than they did in the previous ISL seasons, East Bengal failed in the hurdle of the playoffs race. Here we look at how the Red & Gold Brigaders’ dramatic campaign went, and what worked and didn’t work for them.

Fact sheet

ISL 2023-24 season review: East Bengal

Top performers

Cleiton Silva

ISL 2023-24 season review: East Bengal Cleiton Silva

Cleiton Silva was chosen as the East Bengal captain by Cuadrat and led from the front with a string of inspired performances. The Brazilian forward was a thorn for the opposition defenders with his clever link-up play ability, movement and unpredictability int he final third. He ended the season with 11 goal contributions (eight goals, three assists) in 21 appearances and was in the Golden Boot race for many weeks.

Not just that, but Silva proved to be an efficient team player in the final third, creating 33 goal-scoring chances and averaging 30 passes per game. He scored a number of important goals, including match-winning strikes in wins over Hyderabad, a winner against Bengaluru FC and a goal in the draw against Mohun Bagan. Despite his age, the 37-year-old was still East Bengal’s biggest threat in the opposition half and played a key role in keeping them in the playoffs race until the end.

Nandhakumar Sekar

East Bengal decided to add some attacking swagger to their team and roped in Nandhakumar Sekar from Odisha FC after witnessing his great work in the 2022-23 season. It proved to be a masterstroke as the 28-year-old made a positive impact and added a burst in quality in their frontline. Nandha’s ability to carry the ball into dangerous areas, smart off-the-ball movement and efficient final ball helped him become a fan-favorite at East Bengal.

He scored five goals and provided three assists in the ISL, getting the most goal contributions among all the Indian players. Nandha proved to be a real unpredictable threat, often popping into key areas out of nowhere to catch defenders off their guard. He scored in the wins of NorthEast United and Chennaiyin FC, being a major threat in both the wings. Nandha also enjoyed his best-ever ISL season with East Bengal, with his eight goal contributions being his highest in any single ISL campaign so far.

Saul Crespo

Another significant acquisition from Odisha FC for East Bengal was their Spanish midfield general Saul Crespo. The 27-year-old adapted into Carles Cuadrat’s system perfectly and became a breath of fresh air for the Kolkata side. He played a key role in helping East Bengal retain possession with his smart pressing and then aid with their transitions from defence into the attack, smoothly spraying forward passes to help with the build-up play.

He averaged 49 passes per game, made 84 possession recoveries and won 85 duels in 14 appearances in the ISL. Even though he missed a chunk of games due to injury, Saul made a positive impact in the games he did play with his smart distribution and lively hard-working nature. He also scored four goals, including a brace in the big win over Kerala Blasters. Saul’s impressive performances have made him a mainstay in Cuadrat’s side and he’ll aim to create a formidable relationship with Madih Talal next season.

Under-performer of the season

Javier Siverio

ISL 2023-24 season review: East Bengal Javier Siverio
Javier Siverio failed to score an ISL goal in his tenure at East Bengal. (Courtesy: ISL)

Javier Siverio was signed by East Bengal to compete with Cleiton Silva in the frontline and provide another formidable goal-scoring option apart from the captain. However, could never seem to get going in the ISL for the Red & Gold Brigaders. Siverio disappointed in his displays as a substitute for East Bengal and that is why he wasn’t regularly used by Cuadrat.

In 10 appearances for East Bengal in the ISL, he could not score a single goal or provide an assist. The Spaniard even failed to tap into his ‘super-sub’ reputation, not being able to add that spark in the attack after coming on from the bench. Siverio’s underwhelming performances forced East Bengal to loan him to Jamshedpur FC mid-way through the season and bring in Felicio Forbes as a replacement.

Top performances

East Bengal 5-0 NorthEast United

Kerala Blasters 2-4 East Bengal

East Bengal 2-1 Bengaluru FC

Manager’s Report Card

Carles Cuadrat returned to Indian football by accepting to rebuild East Bengal and begin a project that ultimately aims for long-term stability. He had a rather exhausting first season at the club, because of how many matches his team had to play across different competitions. Cuadrat excelled at making this East Bengal team an ideal team for knock-out-based cup tournaments, as they reached the Durand Cup final and won the Super Cup too.

ISL 2023-24 season review: East Bengal Carles Cuadrat
Carles Cuadrat celebrating a win with the fans. (Courtesy: ISL)

But things were not as smooth in the ISL at all. Despite whatever he tried, East Bengal just couldn’t get past second gear for most of the ISL matches. Sometimes they lacked quality in the final third and other times lapses in concentration saw them concede some silly goals. He tinkered quite often with the formation in the aims to finding the ‘perfect system’ for the ISL. As a result, East Bengal drifted from a 4-1-4-1 formation, to a 4-4-2 before also trying out the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations. Despite all his attempts, he just couldn’t get them to turn the draws into wins or losses to draws.

Despite that, East Bengal was only able to win 6 matches in the ISL and often lacked the attacking teeth to finish off matches. Cuadrat definitely deserves praise for how he fixed their defensive structure to make them a mean team to play against. East Bengal conceded 29 goals in 22 matches, having the fifth-best defensive record and only lost three ISL matches by a margin of over two goals. Ultimately, the lack of a real goal machine or a majestic playmaker held Cuadrat from unlocking the utmost potential of East Bengal – which is something he’ll aim to do next season.

Lessons to be Learned

East Bengal definitely proved their ability to compete for a playoff spot in the last season, something they absolutely couldn’t in their first few seasons in the ISL. But to actually secure that top-6 spot or even compete for a top-3 spot, there are certain persisting issues that need to be solved.

Firstly, the Red & Gold Brigaders desperately need more depth in their squad. They need more competitiveness for all the positions in the teams, meaning those on the bench need to match or at least be near the quality of their starting players.

The Kolkata side needs to sign players who can adapt seamlessly to the playing style Cuadrat wants to implement. This means getting technically adept players who can properly execute a slick passing style and are also ready to put in defensive work for the team. They need to sign a few quality goal-scorers and add more creativity to the team to make that jump to competing with the ISL giants and finally get into the playoffs next season.

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