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I-League Week 4: Churchill and Chennai try to win as Kolkata continue to build at top

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

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Indian Arrows take on Minerva and invite Gokulam at home in an I-league week full of action.

It was a week of some twists and turns in the I-League where Minerva Punjab FC continued their stunning start to the season with their third straight win and ended the week at the top of the table, two points ahead of closest competitor Mohun Bagan. The Mariners played without key players and slipped against the resurgent Shillong Lajong, who recovered well after the drubbing received from East Bengal earlier on.

The Red and Gold Brigaders got a crucial win in a thrilling match against Churchill Brothers at the weekend and will look to continue their winning run. On the other hand, Neroca FC continued their own impressive start and got a win in their first home game of the season against the lacklustre Chennai City FC, who need to find a footing soon.

Defending Champions Aizawl got their first win of the season through a late minute winner to sink Churchill Brothers, who will be looking to pick up some points next week which is a crucial one for the mid-table and relegation-threatened teams. Let's have a look at the preview for the next game-week of the I-League.

Aizawl FC vs Shillong Lajong FC

The Current I-League Champions currently prevail in the second half of the table.

Date & Venue: 18th December/ Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl.

Time & Broadcast: 02:00PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar.

After a lengthy gap from their draw against East Bengal, Aizawl FC got an important win against Churchill Brothers last week when a late minute winner from Yugo Kobayashi, getting them 3 important points in their quest to retain their championship. The defending champions face a stern test against Shillong Lajong, who looked dangerous in their draw against Mohun Bagan.

Paulo Menezes' side will have to show their stuff of champions if they are to regain the I-League this season, and a win against a hardworking team like Shillong will prove their credentials. Shillong Lajong made a quick recovery after their thrashing against East Bengal earlier this month, as they came away with a crucial point against an injury-hit Mohun Bagan side. Lajong looked pretty good in that game, attacking well and getting a well-deserved point at the end.

While he's doubtful for the game, Lajong will look to maintain their fast-paced, sleek style of football against Aizawl who are yet to be tested at home. Aizawl are not the same team anymore and Shillong will be optimistic to continue their participation in the title race by getting some valuable points against the defending champions.

Minerva Punjab vs Indian Arrows

Minerva Punjab currently hold the top spot of the I-league table

Date & Venue: 18th December/ Guru Nanak Stadium, Ludhiana.

Time & Broadcast: 08:00 PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar

Minerva Punjab have made a staggering turn-around in the I-League this season, with Ranjit Bajaj's team undefeated in their first four games and already defying a lot of expectations this season. They might be sitting at the top of the table, but their next challenge will be a stern one as they face Indian Arrows once again. It'll be a difficult match because of how hungry the Arrows are to avenge their defeat earlier this season, but Punjab look almost unstoppable at home right now.

They've found the right combination of foreign players with impressive home-grown talent and will look to take the game to Arrows. Luis Norton, the opposite manager, accused Minerva of playing negative football in the first fixture. One more dominating victory could truly assert the Punjab team as contenders for the title, and they will look to keep the stunning form going.

Indian Arrows' dream run was halted earlier this month, when they were defeated at their home ground by Minerva Punjab FC. Luis Norton de Matos was not happy with the kind of game-play shown by Minerva on that day, and he knows what he needs to change about his side to thwart the league leaders this week.

It'll be a really tough game for Arrows, who will need to step up and play much more clever football to stop Punjab from dominating them. We know about the kind of talent these blooming young players have, and the boys will look for revenge for the defeat and play with much more intent. The Arrows could definitely come away with all points if they show hunger in getting them against Punjab, and a win for them could definitely shake up the title race as well.

Mohun Bagan vs Neroca FC

Mohun Bagan are only 2 points shy of the top spot.

Date & Venue: 19th December/ Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata.

Time & Broadcast: 05:30 PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar.

Mohun Bagan were flying high after their derby win against East Bengal earlier this month and looked to be in top form after thrashing Churchill Brothers 5-0 after that. But a string of injuries to key players like Sony Norde, Ansumane Kromah, and Yuta Kinowaki meant that the Mariners had to field an ineffective team against Lajong and lose 2 crucial points.

Things aren't looking so good for the injury-hit Bagan, who will need to bounce back against Neroca FC who are themselves looking really good. The Marines need a win to keep up with Minerva Punjab, and three points is an absolute necessity for Bagan at the moment. Sanjoy Sen will hope some of his stars can return against Neroca, but will need to play positively and get a definitive result regardless of whoever is playing against the newly-promoted side.

Neroca FC showed immaculate resurgence when they played in front of their home fans for the first time this season, with the Orange Army defeating Chennai City FC in a thrilling match. With the state of the I-League right now, Neroca will aim for a mid-table finish this season as they look to play attractive football to entertain their fans who showed up in big numbers on Friday.

While everyone generally expects Neroca to be the underdogs when they take on Mohun Bagan, they will not back down without the fight and knowing the situation of the Mariners. Neroca will continuously threaten and test their resolve. They will look to make history at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday and knowing the unpredictability they bring with themselves, we could see them getting something out of the game.


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Churchill Brothers vs Chennai City FC

Churchill Brothers and Chennai City FC look for their first win of this season.

Date & Venue: 19th December/ Tilak Maidan Stadium, Goa.

Time & Broadcast: 08:00 PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar.

Churchill Brothers have had quite the horrendous start to the I-League season and are currently at rock bottom, having lost all their matches so far. The Goa-based club had to overhaul its squad because of how some important exits in the summer and the team looked to be all over the place. They did mount the challenge to East Bengal and almost came away with a point, but were unlucky to lose at the last minute.  

They have the perfect opportunity to get all 3 points and prove a point against Chennai at their home. With their fans cheering on, Churchill will play on the attack in their first home match of the season but will need to be much better defensively to keep out Chennai and get their first win of the season.

Chennai City FC have come ever so close to a win in recent weeks, but have ultimately lost by the slightest of margins which keeps them at the relegation spot of the I-League. While they've shown great resurgence to gain the lead or even equalize in the last few matches, they can't seem to have that winning mentality and have ended up losing their nerve after the game gets even.

Chennai have shown themselves to be decent in away games and have actually played some impressive football at times, but they'll need to improve to defeat this rejuvenated Churchill side. They will need to contain the attacking threat of Churchill and be defensively solid, something they've failed at in the past few matches and they will need to get a win before some more difficult games ahead.

Indian Arrows vs Gokulam Kerala FC

Norton's boys will change their base for a few matches to Delhi.

Date & Venue: 22nd December/ Ambedkar Stadium, Delhi.

Time & Broadcast: 02:00 PM/ Star Sports 2,Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar.

Indian Arrows will not have it easy at all on their away trip to Minerva Punjab FC and are unlikely to get any point from the high-flying league leaders. While that game may not be the best one for the young side, they return to their home ground in Delhi where they face off against Gokulam Kerala FC later on. The other new entry to the I-League are struggling themselves, so Arrows will fancy their chances in the match.

Luis Norton de Matos' side showed amazing intent in their 3-0 drubbing of Chennai City FC in their first match, and will hope to replicate that against Kerala, who aren't defensively the strongest. We can expect the young boys to play with intent and put on a display of free-flowing attacking football and if they find their rhythm against Kerela, the fans are definitely in for a treat.

Gokulam Kerala FC saw an impressive crowd fill out their stadium in their first two home matches in the I-League, but they failed to get a win out of the two and disappointed many with a 3-0 loss at home to Neroca FC. Kerala will not have it any easier against Indian Arrows, who look to be really dangerous at home and will themselves be hungry for a win against their fellow new-entrants of the I-League.

While they must've been demoralized because of the loss to Neroca, Kerala did play some decent football away at Shillong, where they lost only by a margin of 0-1. They'll definitely fancy their chances against the inexperienced Indian Arrows, who can be thwarted if one team plays cleverly against them. This is a good opportunity for Kerala to properly introduce themselves in the I-League and get a vital victory, which could give a huge boost of confidence to the whole team and its supporters as well.

Chennai City FC vs East Bengal

After the Derby loss, East Bengal are steadily building their form.

Date & Venue: 22nd December/ Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Coimbatore.

Time & Broadcast: 05:30 PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar.

Chennai City FC may have had a torrid start to the season, but shades of brilliance have been noticed in their game-play throughout this season. There were many controversies surrounding Chennai before the I-League began, but knowing their impressive home record last season, they will definitely be pleased to be back to their hunting ground this time.

Their first home game is against giants East Bengal who are looking hungry as ever to win their first I-League trophy, but V. Soundrarajan's men are desperate for a win themselves. Chennai will have to be very strong defensively to shut out Bengal, and will need to be clinical in finishing off their opportunities to have a chance at pleasing their fans and getting 3 precious points at Coimbatore.

East Bengal have recovered pretty well from their poor start to the season, after a crushing defeat to rivals Mohun Bagan seemed to dampen the spirits of their fans. Khalid Jamil's men have since played some stunning football and won an enthralling game against Churchill at the very end. Under-fire star Willis Plaza seems to have got his mojo back with a brace against Churchill, but East Bengal will need to play better and improve their away form against Chennai.  

It will not be an easy fixture for the Red and Gold Brigaders because of the hunger Chennai possess for a win and how leaky Bengal's defence seems to be. East Bengal are hopeful of mounting a proper title challenge this time, so a win in is a must for them as Khalid Jamil looks to maintain the perfect balance between making them play attractive football and also getting maximum points in every match.

Shillong Lajong vs Neroca FC

Both teams rely heavily on local talent and it will be a feast for the NorthEast audiences.

Date & Venue: 23rd December/ Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Shillong.

Time & Broadcast: 02:00 PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar.

Shillong Lajong had to play some tough couple of games after their dream start to the I-League season. They return to their home later this week, when they face Neroca FC who are playing well in the league. While the recent away fixtures were difficult for Shillong, they did gain something out of it and their worst fixtures are now behind them.

They look to be in stunning form at home and will look to continue that against Neroca, who will be no pushovers themselves. Shillong will hope their captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia gets fit before the match and new signing Saihou Jagne is also available. They can be really dangerous if they have a fully fit squad and knowing how well their players can play free-flowing, attacking football to attract audiences, one can expect this bout to be an exciting one.

Neroca FC have been the surprise package of the I-League so far this season, where they have exceeded expectations and have shown some really exciting football. Neroca's amazing home win against Churchill Brothers will have them booming with confidence, but that could be brought down later this week when they face the I-League regulars.

Shillong Lajong will be a really difficult side for Neroca to contain but the visitors have proven that they won't sit back and soak pressure. The newly-promoted side will definitely go on the attack against Lajong and try to match the tempo in what could be a really entertaining match in the weekend on the hills.

Published: Mon Dec 18, 2017 03:33 PM IST

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