Talking Point: Can ATK Mohun Bagan’s mean defence keep SC East Bengal’s goal-scorers at bay?
The biggest match in Indian football will take centre stage on Friday when ATK Mohun Bagan square off against SC East Bengal in the Hero Indian Super League’s (Hero ISL) first-ever Kolkata derby. Colloquially known as the Boro Match or Big Match, the Kolkata derby is widely regarded as the biggest rivalry in Asia and its latest chapter promises to be unlike any other with the Hero ISL now staging the most highly-anticipated match in Indian football. Emotions run high during these games and heroes are born on the back of match-winning performances in this derby. Friday’s encounter between the two Kolkata giants promises to be no different with points as well as pride at stake and here we discuss some of the talking points that could have a bearing on the outcome of the fixture.
SC East Bengal’s experienced Indian contingent
SC East Bengal have assembled a squad with plenty of Hero ISL experience. Their Indian contingent boasts experience of 611 Hero ISL matches – highest among all teams -- with the likes of Narayan Das (90 appearances), Jeje Lalpekhlua (69 appearance) and Balwant Singh (59 appearances) leading the way. Furthermore, many of their Indian stars have an eye for goal and are capable of winning the match for their team. The trio of Jeje, CK Vineeth and Balwant have a combined 45 goals in the Hero ISL. In fact, SC East Bengal have 55 combined Hero ISL goals by Indians in their squad, which is second only to Bengaluru FC’s 61 goals among the 11 teams in the league.
ATK Mohun Bagan’s defence will be difficult to breach
Breaking down an Antonio Lopez Habas side is never easy and that was the case in ATK Mohun Bagan’s season opener against Kerala Blasters FC. Despite having plenty of attacking talent in their team, SC East Bengal will need to be at their best if they want to get the better of the Mariners’ defence which features three quality centre-backs in Sandesh Jhingan, Tiri and Pritam Kotal as well as wingbacks Prabir Das and Subhasish Bose. They restricted Kerala Blasters to no shots on target in Hero ISL 2020-21’s curtain-raiser and Habas’ men will be eager not to give too many chances to an SC East Bengal side with plenty of goals in them. ATKMB are also clinical at the other end of the pitch, which makes them such a dangerous team in keeping with Habas’ ethos of the defence absorbing pressure before catching out the opposition by being clinical in attack just as Roy Krishna demonstrated against Kerala.
Jeje’s long-awaited return to football
After missing out on the entire last season due to injury, the Mizo Sniper Jeje will make his highly-anticipated return to the Hero ISL in SC East Bengal colours. The second-highest Indian goal-scorer (23 goals) in Hero ISL history, Jeje knows what it’s like to feature in a Kolkata derby having played in it for Mohun Bagan in the Hero I-League. He will go into the contest unfazed and it will be interesting to see if he can be the Jeje of old following such a lengthy spell on the sidelines. That said, regardless of whether Jeje gets on the scoresheet, his presence in the dressing room will be huge for the Hero ISL debutants. His Kolkata derby experience aside, Jeje knows exactly what awaits him in the Hero ISL and having a player of his experience, know-how and pedigree in the dressing room can only be deemed as a bonus for SC East Bengal.