The Mariners play arch-rivals East Bengal at the Kolkata Derby in their next game.
A stern reality check was handed to Mohun Bagan by Churchill Brothers last month. The resurgent Goan side sliced open the Mariners’ defence with ease, attaining a dominant 0-3 victory thanks to heroics from Willis Plaza and Dawda Ceesay. If the Kolkata outfit think the storm has passed, they’re sadly mistaken.
After having a topsy-turvy November with two impressive away wins and disappointing home results, the real test begins now for Sankarlal Chakraborty’s men. It was the cruel month of December last season, which effectively ended their title hopes. Bagan began the festive month last time on a high.
However, injuries to crucial players Sony Norde, Yuta Kinowaki and Arijit Bagui during a 5-0 thumping of Churchill left then-manager Sanjoy Sen with a depleted side for the rest of his tenure. The Mariners stuttered forward, drawing three consecutive games at home against Shillong Lajong, NEROCA FC and Indian Arrows in frustrating, drab affairs. They picked up only two wins from a possible five, hence falling behind the front pack.
The same cannot be repeated if they’re to mount a serious title challenge this campaign. Bagan are already eight points behind league leaders Chennai City and lingering in eighth position, mostly due to the competition behind the leaders. The Mariners need to weather the storm and defeat Chennai to stop them running away far ahead in the title race. With rivals East Bengal lavished by cash-rich investors, the pressure is mounting on the Mariners to outperform them on the pitch.
However, to avoid any long-term injuries in their cramped schedule, Chakraborty needs to be more clever with his rotation. While star man Norde is now slowly turning into a regular, the tactician needs to work well with his domestic core.
Pintu Mahata seems to be a permanent starter in his system, but looks exhausted by the schedule. Chakraborty has an array of talented wingers in Abhinas Ruidas, William Lalnunfela and Britto PM, all looking to make their mark to get more game-time. He needs to do better with giving them more opportunities, rather than continuing with experiments like he did by bringing in Amey Ranawade for Mahata against Chennai City. The gaffer will also be looking for better performances from Dipanda Dicka, while hoping Henry Kisekka and Norde’s combination keeps thriving.
In defence, Dalraj’s horror-show against Churchill has given Chakraborty a few headaches. Lalchhawnkima needs to start before Sukhdev Singh, whose ban was recently lifted. Kingsley has taken to his leadership role well, while Shilton Paul should be rotated with the commendable Sankar Roy’s impressive form. Arijit Bagui and Abhishek Ambekar’s remarkable work make them reliable outlets who shouldn’t be tinkered with. In midfield, the hard-working Yuta Kinowaki and improved Sourav Das have created a special partnership.
Things will get tougher as December wears on. After the fighting 1-1 draw against Chennai, the Mariners now get ready for the Kolkata Derby. It’s a must-win situation knowing the amount of pressure they’re under. After that follow two difficult away trips to Minerva Punjab and NEROCA, while facing a Shillong Lajong side at home, whom they drew against in the corresponding fixture last season, will not be easy either.
Bagan need to be much better and develop a winning run at home. Whilst East Bengal and ATK have also found winning games difficult at the Salt Lake Stadium, the Mariners need to practice hard and adapt to the conditions to tame the hungry visiting teams. The Kolkata Derby might be their biggest match in this month, but it’ll be focusing on winning the other four which could catapult them back into the title race.
Mohun Bagan players need to display the hunger to win the title over the next few games. They cannot be worried enough to be looking at how Chennai City and Co. are doing. They need to keep their head straight and take the “one game at a time” formula to heart.
The Mariners now need to turn up a gear or their complete system could break down. They need to up their confidence with a win in the Kolkata Derby and continue their impressive away form by ousting title rivals NEROCA and Minerva Punjab. Maximum points are quintessential to maintain their sinking ambitions for the crown.