Mohun Bagan Super Giant (MBSG) will be eager to get back to winning ways as they host FC Goa at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 on December 23, Saturday. Both these sides are coming on the back of their respective encounters against Mumbai City FC. Whilst FC Goa warded off the Islanders with a goalless draw at home, the Mariners were at the receiving end of a 2-1 loss on the back of a flurry of suspensions that saw a combined total of seven players getting sent off from the match.

The Gaurs are on an unbeaten run in the league this season, with the arrival of head coach Manolo Marquez bringing good news for a club that seemed to have lost its mojo in the last couple of years. The Spaniard has wasted no time in building a strong squad, with players of the correct profile at his disposal to execute his philosophy consistently on the field.

From an experienced Indian defender in Sandesh Jhingan marshalling the backline to midfielders of varied qualities such as Carl McHugh, Rowllin Borges, and Raynier Fernandes in the roster, the Gaurs have covered all bases. Carlos Martinez might not have hit the ground running, but with the likes of Noah Sadaoui and Victor Rodriguez churning out consistent returns upfront, Marquez deserves all credit for inspiring such a quick turnaround for the squad.

For the Mariners, their seven-match-long unbeaten streak came to an end after a feisty loss to the Islanders. Juan Ferrando insisted after the last game that they do not have time to ponder upon the absences of players due to injuries and suspensions, and that he has a big enough squad to make up for such situations. Already out of the AFC Cup, they cannot afford any slip-ups on the domestic front and a victory in this game can help them pip the Gaurs to get the top spot in the standings.

What’s at stake?

Mohun Bagan Super Giant

The comfort and cushion that a quality roster with adequate backups brings is that it allows teams to ride the tide such as the current situation that the Mariners are embroiled in. “We say we will find a solution. This is not a problem I have now at this moment. Time to think in the team, to prepare the team. That's all. This is part of football. I don't like to start crying because I have red cards, they have injuries. This is not my opinion. My opinion is to prepare the team,” Ferrando had quipped after the previous game.

The Kolkata-based club boast of a formidable record against the Gaurs, having four of their six fixtures in the ISL thus far. However, their 13-game unbeaten run in the league came to an end with the defeat against Mumbai City FC, but they are still in a run of six unbeaten matches at home. They have taken 5.6 shots on target per game in the campaign, which is the second-highest after FC (6), reflecting the immense attacking riches in both the teams.

It will be a fixture that brings back some interesting memories for Ferrando, who had first stepped into the ISL as the FC Goa head coach in 2020-21. He joined the Mariners midway through the 2021-22 campaign, and has since then won thrice in his four encounters with the Gaurs. Getting one over his former employers will be on the back of his mind this time around too, but whether he manages to do with the help of a slightly depleted squad in his ranks remains to be seen.

FC Goa

FC Goa have an opportunity to cement their top-of-the-table spot with a victory in this clash. Building distance with nearest competitors is essential for any ambitious side to success in an intensely fought battle for the coveted places in the standings.

They have 20 points from eight games at the moment, and a win here will take them to 23 in nine encounters – which is the competition record for any team after those numbers of matches in a single season (Bengaluru FC – 23 points in 2018-19). Their defensive solidity is a major reason behind that, having given away only three goals in eight games thus far.

With five consecutive clean sheets, they have hit the league record for longest such run in the ISL. In fact, they have not let the opposition strike the back of the net in the last 500 minutes they have played in the competition, which is the second-most after the 541 minutes that Mumbai City FC didn’t concede any goal in November 2014.

It is practically going to be a faceoff between the offensive powers of the Mariners with the defensive strength of the visitors. Who prevails whom will have a big say in the dynamics of where these teams end up at the conclusion of the first-half of the league campaign.

Key Players

Jason Cummings (Mohun Bagan Super Giant)

The Australian striker has settled seamlessly in the Mohun Bagan Super Giant unit, converting straightforward chances with impeccable consistency. He is donning the role of an outright No. 9, with Cummings constantly hovering inside the 18-yard box, sniffing opportunities coming into the box from the wings and getting to the end of them, much to the dismay of the opposition. He has netted four times and assisted once in seven encounters, recording a goal contribution every 95.8 minutes that he has spent on the field.

With Liston Colaco sidelined, Cummings will not have low crosses coming into the box with similar frequency, and hence he will have to be wary of making the most of whatever comes his way, especially given that the Gaurs do not go off-guard quite often. There could be a possibility that he could drop back a bit to influence the proceedings in a greater capacity, and the exact role that Ferrando assigns him for this match will have a major impact on the eventual outcome as well.

Sandesh Jhingan (FC Goa)

The value that Sandesh Jhingan has brought to this FC Goa setup cannot be summarised enough. His presence in their backline has brought a sense of stability, assurance, and discipline in the defence that has given their midfielders and forwards greater freedom to explore and take their chances going forward. Jhingan has recorded 1.1 tackle and 5.5 clearances per game, with an average of 32 passes at an accuracy of 80% in eight appearances thus far.

He has forged a fantastic partnership with Odei Onaindia at the back, and being flanked by the duo of Seriton Fernandes and Jay Gupta on either side has brought FC Goa immense success so far. Jhingan has been a seasoned professional, experienced of coming up against quality attacks and coming on top of them regularly. He will be instrumental in keeping the Mariners at bay at the Salt Lake Stadium, for Marquez and his plans to unfold as designed in this potentially high-stakes, high-octane encounter.

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Played – 6

Mohun Bagan Super Giant – 4

FC Goa – 1

Draws – 1

Trivia: Mohun Bagan Super Giant have recorded 15 sequences of 10+ passes ending in a shot or a touch in the opposition’s box in ISL 2023-24, which is the joint most by any side along with Hyderabad FC (15).

Team Talk

“We have prepared plans. It’s a short (turnaround) time, but our job is to find solutions to the problems. I am not afraid, because it’s my job to try and find solutions whenever any problem exists,” Mohun Bagan Super Giant head coach Juan Ferrando insisted as he addressed the absences of key players for the coming game.

“We are not a defensive team. Except the last game, when Mumbai City FC pushed a lot in some moments, in the other games we had more and clear chances to win the game by more than one goal. Even against Jamshedpur FC, we scored late, they played well, but we had a lot of chances to score. If we are more clinical, my feel is that the season will be very good,” FC Goa head coach Manolo Marquez said.

ISL Fantasy

Jay Gupta (3.7cr)

One of the standout Indian performers this season

Sandesh Jhingan (5.2cr)

Has helped FC Goa keep six clean sheets in eight matches

Jason Cummings (9.6cr)

Five goal contributions in seven games

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Where to Watch

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