Defending champions Mohun Bagan will be under pressure to deny the Alejandro Menendez-led East Bengal a hat-trick of derby wins when the arch-rivals clash in the Calcutta Football League Premier Division in Kolkata on Sunday.
The Mariners missed out on dream date in the Durand Cup summit clash last week after East Bengal made a semi-final exit.
They now get ready to resume their old rivalry in the season’s first derby.
The I-League runners-up, East Bengal, with a well-oiled unit under Menendez, start as favourites against Mohun Bagan who are still grappling to find a perfect combination under fellow Spaniard Kibu Vicuna.
The last season’s derby saw both team play out a 2-2 draw while East Bengal, who have six points from three matches to occupy fourth place, won both their legs against their arch-rivals in the I-League.
Overall, the two teams have clashed 367 times with East Bengal winning 129 to Mohun Bagan’s 118, while 120 ended in a draw.
In his first derby test, Vicuna’s biggest concern would be to organise his porous defence which has already leaked five goals in three matches to succumb to seventh place in their title defence with four points.
Their poor backline also cost them a record 17th title bid in the Durand Cup as Gokulam Kerala’s Marcus Joseph easily scored a brace in a 2-1 win in the final.
The likes of Gurjinder Kumar and Lalchhawnkima have been caught off-guard many times and Vicuna will have to heavily rely on his trusted lieutenant Fran Morante in the central defence to check the two East Bengal attackers – Jaime Santos and Bidyasagar Singh.
“We have to correct the defensive line, the midfield line and also the attack. Also they played really well. It was hard for us to concede at half-time and then again 4 or 5 mins into the second half,” Vicuna said after their Durand Cup final defeat.
Mohun Bagan, however, can look up to comeback man Lalramchullova while Joseba Beitia has been in his creative best in the mid-field, and his partnership with Salva Chamorro and VP Suhair will be crucial up front.
Both teams’ coach have criticised the afternoon (3 PM) kick-off for the crucial derby that would determine the title race.
“The weather is inhuman right now,” Menendez said, referring to the hot and humid Kolkata weather.
There’s too much of humidity. It won’t the allow the players to play with their full potential, it will be a big problem,” he added,
His Mohun Bagan counterpart added: “The conditions are not conducive for good football. It would have been ideal to have an evening kick-off.
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