This will be the first-ever Kolkata Derby to take place in the Indian Super League.
The biggest game in Indian football is set to grace the Indian Super League (ISL) this season, as ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) face SC East Bengal in the highly-anticipated clash. In what is to be the first-ever derby between the Kolkata giants in the ISL, tempers will flare up and nobody will be satisfied with anything less than a win.
The rivalry shared by these two teams and the passion which is on show in this derby, makes it one a mouth-watering prospect. Despite the unfortunate lack of fans in the stadium, their spirit will be carried on the shoulders of the players – who will look to make a bright impression on their supporters with an emphatic showing on Friday night.
With both teams packed with highly-talented players, this will definitely be a tight, intense affair. ATKMB and East Bengal both have the players who can turn the game on its head and win it for either side. So, here we’ll look at five key battles that could decide the outcome of the match.
5. David Williams Vs Matti Steinmann
David Williams might not have started ATK Mohun Bagan’s first game in the ISL this season, but he is expected to be back in the starting XI against East Bengal. The Aussie forward had a brilliant season last time around and excels operating just behind Roy Krishna in a free role. Williams can cause havoc with his clever passes and off-the-ball movement to catch defenders off guard. So, the Red & Gold Brigade have to be extremely aware of him.
Their new German defensive midfielder Matti Steinmann should be the one appointed to keep him quiet. The Hamburger SV academy product incidentally joined Wellington Phoenix after Williams left last season. He’s a robust, sturdy figure who excels at bullying attackers. He’ll probably look to operate deeper to track Williams’ runs, make key challenges and not allow him any space to cause problems to the defenders.
4. Jeje Lalpekhlua Vs Sandesh Jhingan
After missing almost two entire seasons of the ISL, Jeje Lalpekhlua should finally make his return to the big time. He will do it playing against the side whose famous Green and Maroon shirt he once wore with pride. This time, however, it’ll be all business for Jeje – who will be determined to prove that he’s still got that lethal instinct in him. The experienced striker’s clinical finishing in the final third makes him a daunting prospect and his unpredictable style causes defenders lots of problems.
But, his fellow India international Sandesh Jhingan will probably thrive in the battle. Jhingan looked rock-solid in his first game in over a year against Kerala Blasters and seems to be extremely fit. The sturdy defender will look to shut down Jeje with his crunching tackles and dominant defensive style. So, the East Bengal forward will have to be especially clever with his work-rate to outwit his compatriot.
3. Jacques Maghoma Vs Carl McHugh
Jacques Maghoma has been signed to spark East Bengal’s midfield and add that special something which not many others can. The former Birmingham City midfielder can be a real livewire and work his way through dominating the middle. But, Maghoma faces a tough test against the resurgent Carl McHugh, who started the season brilliantly with ATKMB.
The Irishman was one of the Mariners’ best players against Kerala Blasters and completely shut down Sahal Abdul Samad’s supply lines. Maghoma needs to bring his very best to the table and use his dynamic style to his advantage. McHugh plays a big role in maintaining the strong defensive structure of ATKMB, so if Maghoma’s trickery can break his rhythm, East Bengal could dominate the game in midfield.
2. Anthony Pilkington Vs Pritam Kotal
The marquee signing for East Bengal in their debut season in the ISL, Anthony Pilkington is already among the league’s most recognized players, thanks to his history at Norwich City. The Irish winger has played over 70 games in the Premier League, being involved in almost 20 goals! Pilkington’s unpredictability, ability to score or setup goals with his incisive style will be the backbone of the Red and Gold Brigade’s attacking front.
The left winger will operate in that role, but definitely move in more centrally to create nuisance around the box. ATK Mohun Bagan captain Pritam Kotal has a big responsibility ahead of himself and needs to put in a gigantic performance to keep Pilkington quiet. The India international will have to make good use of his game-reading skills and tendency to make clutch challenges to frustrate Pilkington on Friday. If he’s not able to do so, the Irish winger could run the show for his side.
1. Roy Krishna Vs Danny Fox
Roy Krishna proved his class in ATK Mohun Bagan’s first game in the ISL by clinching the brilliant winner and giving Antonio Habas’ side all three points. The Fijian proved why he’s among the most fearsome strikers in the league and how destructive he can be upon being given even the slightest of free spaces. With Krishna intent on making his mark in the Kolkata Derby, East Bengal skipper Danny Fox will want a memorable debut of his own.
Having dealt with prominent strikers in the Premier League, Fox has a ton of experience on his side. He’ll want to use his intelligence and agility to keep a lid on Krishna and frustrate the striker. Roy will be his menacing self, making those penetrative runs and aiming to find spaces not many others can. It’ll be up on Fox to maintain a sturdy defensive line for East Bengal and ensure they don’t give an inch of free space to the ATKMB hitman.