The Red and Gold are in the hunt for their first I-League title for over a decade.

A new dawn has come upon East Bengal after business tycoons Quess Corporation came in to solve the problems within the club. There are no more financial issues for the Red and Gold, who have been flexing their riches since getting such mega-investors. Their hunt for an elusive I-League title continues this season and they’ve seriously stacked up their team to achieve that seemingly impossible target. After having a disappointing slump in the top flight last campaign, East Bengal have wiped the slate clean and are aiming to go all out to win the crown this term.

Here, we’ll look at how the club is shaping up heading into the season and what can work as their strengths, weaknesses over the course of the campaign.

Last Season’s Performance

The Red and Gold Brigaders had a really topsy-turvy season in the I-League, only managing to finish at an underwhelming fourth place last time out. Despite having a relatively strong start to the campaign and being at the top of the table for a few weeks, they couldn’t sustain the momentum as the term wore on. East Bengal gave some tough competition to Minerva Punjab throughout, but their poor performances towards the end allowed the Warriors to lift the trophy in the end.

Pre-Season

The squad had a positive pre-season in Malaysia

East Bengal had a shocking campaign in the Calcutta Football League during the summer. Being defending champions for the past eight years, Bengal went into the tournament as favorites because of their impressive squad. However, midway through the season, things started to fall off for them. The introduction of Johnny Acosta worked badly and East Bengal slipped up against Peerless and Mohammedan Sporting to help Mohun Bagan win the title after many years. The Red and Gold Brigaders ended up finishing third, after which they headed to Malaysia. They had a pretty good pre-season, defeating UiTM FC 4-1 and drawing their other game against Terengganu FC.

Coaching Staff

Alejandro Menendez was brought in by East Bengal in the middle of their Calcutta Football League campaign. The Spaniard has vast experience of managing at the top level, having being at the helm of Spanish sides Celta Vigo and Real Madrid Castilla in the past.

Menendez has already had a prolific time managing in Asia, having won a flurry of championships with Buriram United. It is because of his taste for winning trophies that East Bengal have assigned him as their head coach.

The Spaniard loves to play an attacking brand of football and could be a great fit in Kolkata. Menendez has also brought alongwith him two assistants in Physical Trainer Carlos Nodar Paz and Video Analyst Mario Rivera Campesino. Bastob Roy has also remained as an assistant coach, while Subhash Bhowmick recently stepped down as techincal director.

Transfer Dealings

Ins

The Red and Gold made a flurry of signings in the summer, but the biggest ones came after Quess Corporation’s introduction. At first, Costa Rican international Johnny Acosta was signed by the club. Afterwards, Spanish defender Borja Perez and Mexican striker Enrique Esqueda were also brought in following the Calcutta Football League campaign. East Bengal also made a slew of signings from I-League champions Minerva Punjab, bringing in Rakshit Dagar, Kamalpreet Singh, Kassim Aidara and Bali Gagandeep.

They also signed some experienced individuals in Kinshuk Debnath, Lalrindika Ralte and Lalrozama Fanai in the summer. Sanchayan Samadder was signed for the CFL, while Hira Mondal and Sujay Dutta, who broke through in the competition, were also snapped up. Despite their controversial transfer ban, Bengal were able to register Perez and Esqueda in time for them to play in the I-League.

Outs

There were many departures from East Bengal in the summer. Captain Arnab Mondal, Cavin Lobo, Md. Rafique, Nikhil Poojary, Gurwinder Singh and Gabriel Fernandes all moved to the Indian Super League. The likes of Ansumana Kromah and Dudu Omagbemi were also letgo off by the club, who wanted to restructure their team.

Here is the list of players who left East Bengal:

Luis Barreto(GK), Arnab Mondal(CB), Gurwinder Singh(CB), Eduardo Ferreira(CB), Khalid Aucho(CM), Cavin Lobo(CM), Mohammed Rafique(CM), Katsumi Yusa(AM), Gabriel Fernandes(RW), Nikhil Poojari(RW), Ansumana Kromah(FWD), Dudu Omagbemi(FWD).

Squad

Goalkeepers: Rakshit Dagar, Ubaid C.K., Mirshad Michu, Abhra Mondal.

Defenders: Samad Ali Mallick, Kamalpreet Singh, Lalram Chullova, Salam Ranjan Singh, Mehtab Singh, Johnny Acosta, Borja Perez, Koushik Sarkar, Kinshuk Debnath, Lalrozama Fanai.

Midfielders: Mahmoud Al Amna, Kassim Aidara, Surabuddin Mallick, Yami Longvah, Sanchayan Sammadar, Laldanmawia Ralte, Lalrindika Ralte, Brandon Vanlalremdika.

Forwards: Enrique Esqueda, Bali Gagandeep, Joby Justin, Vidyasagar Singh.

Formation & Tactics

In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Al Amna and Aidara are expected to dictate the side’s tempo

East Bengal relied on a lone striker due to their striking options in the Calcutta Football League, in which they mostly operated through a 4-2-3-1 formation. They should persist with that formation or could even opt for a 4-3-3 due to their options in midfield.


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Dagar should be Bengal’s #1 this season and the defensive duo of Acosta and Perez in the center is locked in. Kamalpreet Singh and Lalrozama Fanai should play in either full-back roles due to their experience in the I-League.

Acosta is expected to have a solid season

Mahmoud Al Amna and Kassim Aidara are almost certain to play in East Bengal’s midfield due to their lack of solid options in the middle of the park. Lalrindika Ralte had a bright CFL campaign and could play behind the striker or even a bit deeper if need be. On the wings, Laldanmawia Ralte is expected to be a regular because of his fantastic ability on the right. On the left, Esqueda is going to be given complete license to terrorize the opposition.

However, Menendez could also operate Dika Ralte through the left, or even Esqueda. While the Mexican striker is expected to lead the charge for them, The tactician could also use Jobby Justin or Gagandeep if needed in some games.

Knowing East Bengal’s heritage of playing beautiful, attacking football, Menendez should take to them really nicely. He’ll focus on sleek passing and moving through the wings, at which Bengal are the strongest and hope his players are more clinical in finishing off the chances.

Strengths

East Bengal’s biggest strength this time has to be their attack, which is among the best in the I-League. The introduction of Esqueda gives a huge boost to their striking options and the Mexican’s versatility will really help them. He is not only a potent goalscorer, but can also work really well on the left wing and cause real problems for defences. Laldanmawia Ralte has continued his excellent work on the right wing as well.

Their midfield is also very strong, with Aidara, Al Amna and Ralte all being experienced customers. Adara’s strength, Amna’s energy and Ralte’s creativity can work really well for them to play some beautiful football and stroll past teams this season.

Weaknesses

As surprising as it might seem, East Bengal’s defence is their weak point heading into the I-League. Despite getting a big star like Acosta in the summer, the back four looked at sixes and sevens during the end of the CFL campaign. They conceded some horrible goals, mostly due to Acosta not being able to adapt well enough.

With the Red and Gold all set to debut a new central defensive partnership in the I-League, they’ll hope that their foreign defenders can adapt quickly to the league. Their full-backs aren’t exactly the greatest defensively either and look nervous against stronger opposition. Lapses in concentration and defensive errors could be disastrous and result in them dropping some important points during the campaign.

Fixtures

For a complete list of all the fixtures, click here.

Players To Watch

Enrique Esqueda: East Bengal’s newly-acquired winger has played top level football in Europe and South America throughout his career and is known to be extremely dangerous on the left wing. Having represented Mexico in the 2015 Copa America, he brings a lot of experience to the unit.

Esqueda scored two goals in eight appearances for Polish Club Arka Gdynia earlier this year and has the ability to create many chances through the wings. East Bengal will hope for him to be the solution to their attacking problems and dazzle the fans with his South American flair.

Lalrindika Ralte: Lalrindika Ralte has been East Bengal’s “marquee” domestic signing this season and was very impressive in their CFL campaign. Ralte proved to be dangerous in the Kolkata Derby and had a promising campaign for East Bengal.

His creativity, set-piece threat and versatility in the final third makes him an important player for Menendez, who will look to grind the absolute best out of him. East Bengal will hope for him to be that crucial link between midfield and attack, as Ralte will be determined to prove himself as a top-class player by taking the I-League by storm.

Johnny Acosta: The Costa Rican has not had a pleasant start to his East Bengal career and was pretty underwhelming during his appearances in the CFL. Despite scoring two goals in three appearances, Acosta looked shaky defensive and was not in sync with his new teammates. However, with a Spanish defender in Perez now being his partner, things should be much easier for Acosta.

The World-Cupper has great defensive traits in tackling, heading and great distribution skills and once he gets accustomed to Indian football, he could be a rock for East Bengal’s defense. Acosta has much to prove in the I-League and knowing his ability as a leader at the back, he could lead Bengal to much success this season.

What To Expect

After building such a star-studded team this time around, East Bengal will be aiming to lodge a serious challenge for the I-League title. The Red and Gold are among the favorites to lift the trophy this season and if they maintain consistency in their game, they could finally bring home the title which has eluded them for so long. Menendez will aim to play some dazzling football in the highly-competitive I-League and make East Bengal “the” team to beat this season.