Where will the Kolkata derby be won and lost? Hero ISL experts have their say
The playoff spots in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) might already have been decided, but there are still businesses to be taken care of and scores to be settled in the league stage this season.
A small matter of the Kolkata derby, only the biggest rivalry in Indian football, is set to take the league phase towards a grand conclusion.
The game may not hold great significance in terms of the points table as ATK Mohun Bagan have secured a place in the playoffs, and East Bengal FC are out of contention, but a Kolkata derby goes beyond recent form and context.
It’s a final in its own right, and claiming the bragging rights is no less than winning a trophy.
For the Mariners, securing a top-four place which will earn them a home tie in the playoffs, remains on the agenda and for East Bengal, stopping their arch-rivals from doing so will be the perfect ending to their campaign.
Ahead of the highly anticipated clash, Hero ISL experts Paul Masefield and Phil Brown analyse where the game will be won and lost and put themselves on the spot.
ATK Mohun Bagan, a season of injuries and inconsistency
Failure to win against East Bengal FC would make it the worst season in terms of points accumulated and position on the table for ATK Mohun Bagan. It is also their lowest-scoring season in the league, and the Mariners would like to put an inconsistent campaign behind them and get a much-needed morale boost ahead of the playoffs. It won’t get any better than a win in the Kolkata derby.
However, throughout the season, the Mariners have found it hard to string good performances together and also struggled in front of the goal.
“ATK Mohun Bagan have been very inconsistent this season. They have had a lot of injuries, and they have had a lot of problems trying to score goals. It's been their biggest problem,” Hero ISL expert Paul Masefield notes.
“Who will they play upfront? Probably Dimitri Petratos. Hugo Boumous came off injured in the last game, and that's going to be a huge blow. So, it could be Manvir Singh or Liston Colaco. No one knows what ATK Mohun Bagan will go with. But with Liston, Manvir, Ashique Kuruniyan, Boumous and Federico Gallego, they should have enough quality to score goals,” he added.
Former Hyderabad FC head coach Phil Brown, too, believes that ATK Mohun Bagan’s chances depend on the fitness of Hugo Boumous.
“For ATK Mohun Bagan, if they can put Hugo Boumous on the pitch, it will cause all sorts of problems for East Bengal FC. ATK Mohun Bagan are a different team with Gallego in the team, and I think the Mariners are less of a threat than with Boumous,” Brown says.
“If ATK Mohun Bagan can get their best front four out that includes Dimi Petratos, Boumous, Manvir and Ashique, then East Bengal FC might find this a tough fixture,” he adds.
ATK Mohun Bagan have won all their matches against East Bengal FC in the Hero ISL, but will they be able to put their best foot forward against their rivals, especially on the attacking front? That remains to be seen.
East Bengal: Potent front four
Stephen Constantine’s men have struggled defensively this season and have conceded more goals than any previous campaigns in the league. However, thanks to an attacking unit that has been able to deliver on a fairly consistent basis, they have overcome the problems at the back to an extent.
Cleiton Silva is the joint-top goalscorer in the Hero ISL this season, and in Naorem Mahesh Singh, they have the leading Indian assist provider in the league. So, the Red and Golds’ chances rest on their attacking quartet outdoing ATK Mohun Bagan, who have been strong defensively.
“The game will be won and lost in the battle of the frontlines. Cleiton Silva needs to get another goal or two. He's been excellent for East Bengal FC this season,” Masefield notes.
“The combination of Jake Jervis and Cleiton Silva is proving to be a decent partnership. We have seen them link up well. I also feel the support that VP Suhair and Naorem Mahesh offer makes them a potent front four,” mentions Brown.
Who needs it more?
ATK Mohun Bagan have a tangible reward to play, which is getting a home tie in the knockout rounds by finishing in the top four. But for East Bengal FC, hurting their arch-rivals’ chances of winning the title would be a nice parting gift from their fans.
Stormy battles in the past ⚔️— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) February 25, 2023
Another tonight as they fight to paddle past each other! 🚣#EBFCATKMB #HeroISL #LetsFootball #EastBengalFC #ATKMohunBagan pic.twitter.com/iVRdd8rTBb
“If both teams are able to field their strongest teams, then ATK Mohun Bagan are favourites as their need is greater than East Bengal FC as they will finish in the top four with a win and get a home fixture in the playoffs,” feels Brown.
But East Bengal would also believe that facing an inconsistent ATK Mohun Bagan side under pressure to achieve a goal would be their best chance of enjoying success in the Kolkata derby.
“It really is their (East Bengal FC) best chance to get a result in the Kolkata derby. It will come down to passion and desire with the crowd also playing its part. I do think East Bengal FC would want to play spoilers in this one. They would want to ensure that ATK Mohun Bagan doesn't finish as high in the table as they would like,” says Masefield who has seen this rivalry from up close notes.
ATK Mohun Bagan would be keen to continue their good record over East Bengal FC in the Hero ISL, while the Red and Golds would be desperate to finally get one over their city rivals.