Mohun Bagan Super Giant head coach Antonio Habas feels confident as his team face East Bengal FC in the first Kolkata Derby of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Saturday. 

The Mariners commenced their ISL 2023-24 season with an impressive undefeated streak in the initial seven matches, showcasing a remarkable brand of football. However, things took a downturn for the Kolkata giants in December. They faced a setback with three consecutive losses against Mumbai City FC, FC Goa, and Kerala Blasters FC, significantly impacting their standing in the ISL league table. Subsequently, Mohun Bagan SG decided to part ways with former head coach Juan Ferrando, bringing back former coach Antonio Habas.

The upcoming Kolkata Derby will mark Habas' first match of the season in his return to the club for a second stint. The Mariners aim to avenge their loss to East Bengal FC in the Kalinga Super Cup, where they were eliminated by their rivals in the group stages. East Bengal FC went on to claim the trophy, securing their first national title in 12 years.

Habas has expressed his complete focus on preparing Mohun Bagan SG for the upcoming challenges.

“My idea all the time in football is to prepare my team 80-85%. And after that, thinking about the proposal to the opponent. First half, we have to learn, we have to adapt to the opponent in more important points. But first is my team, and after my team we are thinking about the opponent,” stated Habas in the pre-match press conference.

Habas had been serving as the Technical Director for Mohun Bagan SG since the beginning of the season. Prior to this role, the two-time ISL Cup-winning coach had been in charge of the club during the 2020-21 season. In that season, he led the team to the final, narrowly falling short of the ISL Cup against Mumbai City FC. Subsequently, he was replaced by Ferrando midway through the following season.

Habas holds the belief that his team has consistently maintained a competitive edge. He emphasises the shift in the team from relying on individual brilliance to a more collective dependence on all eleven players.

Habas said, “Now I have to implement my condition, my way to vision football. The idea connected to the team. A lot of things work you know for, building a competitive team as my team all time, were a competitive team. You know, they had to be (individual brilliance) there, now the actual football is like this (with the whole team working together), no? No individual, no more dependent on one player, or another player. Now we are dependent on the 11 players. This is our idea now.”

Mohun Bagan SG and East Bengal FC faced each other three times this season, with two clashes in the Durand Cup and one in the Kalinga Super Cup. East Bengal FC emerged victorious twice in these encounters, but Mohun Bagan SG secured a crucial win in the Durand Cup 2023 final. Notably, since their entry into the ISL in 2020, East Bengal FC has yet to defeat Mohun Bagan SG. In past derbies, the Mariners have consistently been considered favourites.

When asked if his team will be favourites again for the Kolkata Derby, he said, “I think that in derby matches there is no favourite.”

Each player of my team will give 100% in this match: Subhasish Bose

Mohun Bagan SG captain and defender Subhasish Bose, who recently made his return to the club after serving the Indian team at the AFC Asian Cup, accompanied Habas to the pre-match press conference. 

Bose echoed Habas' sentiments about there being no clear favourites in a derby match and conveyed optimism for the upcoming game.

“As what coach has already mentioned, derbies don’t have any favourites as both teams share the same chance to win but one thing is that the atmosphere in our dressing room currently is very good as the national team players are back and most injured players are fit too. We have practised hard the last few days and we hope to perform better in this derby match.”

Bose recognized the challenges the club faced during the rough patch in December 2023 and expressed confidence with his team’s ability to bounce back, starting with a strong performance in the Kolkata Derby.

“In ISL the second round is starting for us and before the break it was not the best phase for us but since then the team has become more compact and practised a lot under the coach so we hope to do well. Secondly, as discussed before, we can’t predict the outcome of a derby but I know each player of my team will give his 100% in this match,” said Bose.