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I-League Week 14 Preview: No room for error as Minerva, East Bengal and NEROCA mount final title bid

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The season enters its final fortnight with all to play for at both ends of the table.

Another interesting week beckons this time around and the I-League title hangs in the balance. With 3 teams fighting for this prestigious championship, the odds are still in favour of Minerva Punjab should they win their remaining fixtures. 

With the emphatic 7-1 win over Chennai City FC, East Bengal have now moved one position above Minerva Punjab with a better goal difference. Minerva now have a game in hand and two games in hand over East Bengal and NEROCA FC respectively. As we mentioned earlier, the title is still within Minerva's grasps but anything other than a positive result in their remaining games could prove to be tricky for the Punjab based outfit. Let's dive into the penultimate week of I-League.    

Minerva Punjab Vs Aizawl FC

Date & Venue: 26th February/ Tau Devi Lal Stadium, Panchkula

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

They can almost see the end, Minerva Punjab. The coveted I-League title is now within hand’s reach for the Punjab based outfit. Sitting only 2 points behind NEROCA with 2 games in hand, Minerva only need a win to go above them and claim the top spot.

Minerva’s dip in form has caused them all sorts of trouble but they’re lucky enough that the title is still theirs to lose. East Bengal are just 3 points behind Minerva and this is why Minerva cannot afford to slip up against the defending champions. Without a win in two games, Minerva Punjab will have to show great character to come back against a good side like Aizawl and claim all 3 points.

Reigning champions are in the middle of the table and it seems it is going to be that way

Aizawl FC are on the back of an impressive victory against the young Arrows. A brace from Lalkhawpuimawia ensured the defending champions the 3 points and saw them defeat Indian Arrows 3-0. The victory saw Aizawl move up to 21 points and are currently in the 6th position.

The reverse fixture at Aizawl’s home saw them beat Minerva Punjab 2-1. Aizawl were leading Minerva quite comfortably until the 90th minute. They have the psychological advantage and Minerva would want to wipe that out and claim the maximum points to move one step closer to the title.

Kingfisher East Bengal Vs NEROCA FC

Date & Venue: 27th February/ VYBK Stadium, Kolkata

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

East Bengal have successfully done the double over minnows Chennai City FC. Coming on the back of a 7-1 victory, the Red & Golds are in top form going into the end of the season and are putting a lot of pressure on title favourites Minerva Punjab. 

East Bengal have switched up their playing style and have deployed a high press in their recent fixtures. Although it didn't quite work against Gokulam Kerala, Chennai have fallen prey to this style of play. Dude is in fiery form at the moment after putting 4 goals past Chennai City FC and will look to get into the next game with the same form. 

NEROCA FC are currently sat at the top of the I-League standings with 31 points. A win in this tricky fixture could make things a lot harder for Minerva Punjab. A loss will definitely put them out of the title race as they would go down to second having completed all their games. 

The first fixture ended in a stale mate with Nedo Turkovic and Katsumi netting in goals for NEROCA and East Bengal respectively. Things are a lot different this time around and the stakes are much higher. NEROCA have been the surprise package this season and will go into this game with all their might. This fixture is one to look out for.  

Indian Arrows Vs Mohun Bagan

Date & Venue: 27th February/ Tilak Maidan, Goa

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

The future of Indian Football is up against Mohun Bagan on Tuesday

The Indian Arrows have hit the brakes hard on their season as they have stagnated largely and the results haven’t been going their way in the last few weeks. With just 1 win in the last 7 fixtures, the arrows have struggled to put together a good match winning performance.  In the reverse fixture, 10 men Indian Arrows managed to hold the Mariners to a 1-1 draw and it was one of their best performances of the season.

Coming up against a strong attack like Mohun Bagan, the Arrows will have to be on the top of their game to get a favorable result out of this game. Mohun Bagan are the highest scoring side so far in the league (as on 23.2.2018) and coming up against one of the weakest defense could be a huge mismatch if the problems aren't addressed.

Mohun Bagan are mere spectators in this interesting title race as they are 5 points adrift of Minerva Punjab.  Mohun Bagan’s season has been quite a roller coaster and the last few weeks have been the same as well. They lost to Gokulam Kerala but managed to get maximum points against the high flying NEROCA FC. This inconsistency has been extremely impactful in their chase to glory and is something they will look to work on in the off-season. For now, they will look to keep the pressure on the Red & Golds and will want to finish as high as possible.

Aizawl FC Vs Gokulam Kerala FC

Date & Venue: 2nd March/ Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl

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

Sitting within two points between themselves, Aizawl FC and Gokulam Kerala will look to fight for the 6th spot. Aizawl FC would love to secure the final spot that has a guaranteed entry into the Super cup that is set to happen. This game will also be the defending champion’s final game of the season and they would like to end their season on a strong note.

Gokulam Kerala have been a different side ever since they picked up the win against Chennai City FC. Ever since that win, they’ve gone on to pick up 15 points out of a possible 18 points and have looked like a completely different team.

In this impressive run, they’ve beaten big giants like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Minerva Punjab in back to back to back games. These results have shown us what a quality side Gokulam Kerala look like going into the Super cup. Gokulam Kerala would like to keep this run going and beat the defending champions.

Gokulam Kerala are on a roll after defeating Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Minerva in a row


Also Read

Quadruple hero Dudu fires East Bengal back into title reckoning

Dempo keep their title hopes alive after their win against Bardez


Chennai City FC Vs Minerva Punjab FC

Date & Venue: 2nd March / Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Coimbatore

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

Chennai City FC have been very poor this season with the kinds of players that they possess. Soosairaj and Edwin have been playing some of the best football of their lives and these performances are being largely let down by the team that is around them. Having lost 7-1 to East Bengal, it pushed them down to 9th place with just 16 points. 

Coming into this game, the Coimbatore based outfit will be dealt with a huge task of potentially helping decide the I-League winner as they square up against title contenders, Minerva Punjab. Minerva play Aizawl FC on the 26th and will travel down South to Coimbatore to face the unpredictable Chennai City.

Out of the top 3, Minerva have the most number of games in hand

Being one of the high scoring teams this season, Minerva Punjab have failed to score goals in their last two games. In the last 5 games, they've lost their form massively having picked up just 4 points out of a possible 15. The two games in this week is are of prime importance for Minerva Punjab if they dream of winning the I-League title and Chennai City stand in the way of Minerva on their road to glory. 

Churchill Brothers Vs Mohun Bagan

Date & Venue: 3rd March / Tilak Maidan, Goa

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

Churchill’s mid-season form seems to have gone out of the window and they’re back to how they were in the first few games of the season. Coming on the back of 3 defeats, Churchill are facing a huge relegation threat and having lost to Indian Arrows and Chennai City FC, makes it all the worse as a win is very important to move closer to safety.

The match against Chennai City FC showed how Churchill are in a bad state as they failed to control all aspects of the game and let Chennai City run riot as they beat Churchill 3-1. Coming up against Mohun Bagan, Churchill will have to play with all they have because their status in the I-League hangs in the balance.

Mohun Bagan do not have anything to play for in this competition anymore. Almost guaranteed to finish in the top 4 of the table, Mohun Bagan’s season will go down as a disappointment as they failed to claim the title for the third year running. Although they have an outside chance, it is very unlikely that they will get their hands on the trophy.

Published: Sun Feb 25, 2018 02:57 PM IST

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