In their final appearance in the I-League, Mohun Bagan left an indelible mark in the history of the tournament. The Mariners of the 2019-’20 season will go down as one of the best teams to have ever graced the stage as they emerged champions on Tuesday with four games to spare.

A narrow victory against Aizawl FC ensured a record-equalling fifth national league title for the Kolkata giants, that helped them go level with Dempo SC. Mohun Bagan also equaled the Goan club’s feat of winning the title with four games to spare, achieved during the 2009-’10 season.

After enduring a disappointing fifth-place finish last season and narrowly missing out on the I-League in two seasons from 2016-’18, Bagan secured a second title in five seasons with four games to go, bagging 39 points.

The Red and Maroons began the season as title contenders but few would have predicted such dominance. They wrapped up the title after pulling 16 points clear at the top on Tuesday, and having lost just one game all season.

Kibu Vicuna’s side endured a bumpy start to their campaign, being held by Aizawl FC before suffering a humbling defeat to Churchill Brothers at home but they turned around their season with an incredible run of results to become champions. The Mariners won seven matches in a row that helped them better their own record for the longest unbeaten run during a season. The streak of matches without a defeat currently stands at 14.

Mohun Bagan have been the most balanced side in the league and have stood out at both ends of the pitch.

Striker Papa Diawara and midfielder Fran Gonzalez have scored more than half their goals with 10 each. Midfielder Joseba Beitia has been the fulcrum around which their attack has revolved, contributing nine assists while chipping with three goals. Beitia also had a major role in set-pieces, where Bagan scored a staggering 18 goals from dead-ball situations.

I-League 2019-'20 attacking stats

Teams  Goals From open play From set-pieces
Mohun Bagan 35 17 18
Neroca FC 25 18 7
East Bengal 23 10 13
Punjab FC 23 12 11
Churchill Brothers 23 12 11
Gokulam Kerala 20 16 4
Chennai City 18 15 3
Aizawl FC 17 11 6
TRAU FC 17 7 10
Real Kashmir 16 11 5
Indian Arrows 7 5 2
as of March 11, 2020

I-League 2019-'20 attacking stats

Teams Average goals scored (season tally) Inside the box  Outside the box
Gokulam Kerala 12.1 17 2
Mohun Bagan 11 31 4
Punjab FC 10.7 18 5
Neroca FC 9.6 20 4
Aizawl 9.2 16 1
Chennai City 8.9 15 3
East Bengal  8.9 19 4
Real Kashmir 8.9 14 2
Churchill Brothers 7.3 19 4
TRAU FC 5.8 15  1
Indian Arrows 4.5 7 -
as of March 11, 2020

Vicuna’s proactive approach – passing the ball around with purpose, focusing on maintaining their shape and pressing during crucial junctures – has paid dividends.

While scoring goals upfront, Bagan have also been watertight at the back, conceding the fewest goals this season. Spanish centre-back Fran Morante has established himself as the backbone of their defense, either being paired with Daneil Cyrus or Gonzalez. Full-backs Dhanachandra Singh and Ashutosh Mehta have also provided adequate defensive cover while bombing forward when needed.

I-League 2019-'20 defensive stats

Teams  Least goals conceded Clean sheets
Mohun Bagan 13 8
Real Kashmir 14 5
East Bengal 18 2
Gokulam Kerala 19 3
Aizawl FC 19 3
Chennai City 19 4
Indian Arrows 20 2
Churchill Brothers 21 2
Punjab FC 21 3
TRAU FC 27 5
Neroca FC 33 4
as of March 11, 2020

I-League 2019-'20 defensive stats

Teams  Average goals conceded (season tally) Inside the box Outside the box
Indian Arrows 12.2 15 5
Punjab FC
11.2 17 4
East Bengal 10.8 15 3
Aizawl FC 9.4 15 4
Churchill Brothers 8.9 21 -
Gokulam Kerala 8.6 16 3
Chennai City  7.6 19 -
TRAU FC 7.6 24 3
Neroca FC 7.4 30 3
Mohun Bagan 6.5 10 3
Real Kashmir 6.5 12 2
as of March 11, 2020

Mohun Bagan focus on short and intricate passing exchanges to wriggle through oppositions.

Vicuna’s philosophy has revolved around building up patiently playing the ball from the back with the wingers tucking inside and full-backs pushing up high to help in the build up which has been key to their exploits in the final third.

As a result, Mohun Bagan have played the fewest long balls on an average, which highlights their aversion of playing direct.

Average passes Average key passes per game Average passes in goal-scoring attacks per game Average length of passes (Short/long) per game Average shots on target per game Average chances created per game
Chennai City (508) Mohun Bagan (15) Mohun Bagan (5.3) Mohun Bagan (107/38) Gokulam Kerala (6.3) Mohun Bagan (8)
East Bengal (479) East Bengal (15) Neroca FC (5.3) East Bengal (109/39) Mohun Bagan (6.3) Gokulam Kerala (7)
Mohun Bagan (443) Gokulam Kerala (14) Gokulam Kerala (4.8) Gokulam Kerala (117/27) Churchill Brothers (5.8) Churchill Brothers (7)
Punjab FC (442) Punjab FC (11) Chennai City (4.1) Punjab FC (100/43) Chennai City (5) East Bengal (7)
Churchill Brothers (418) Chennai City FC (11) Punjab FC (3.9) Churchill Brothers (103/47) East Bengal (4.9) Neroca FC (5)
Gokulam Kerala (413) Neroca FC (10) Churchill Brothers (3.9) Neroca FC (80/41) Neroca FC (4.4) Chennai City (5)
Aizawl FC (413) Aizawl FC (10) East Bengal (3.6) Aizawl FC 93/43 Real Kashmir (4.2) Real Kashmir (4.7)
TRAU FC (406 Churchill Brothers (10) Real Kashmir (2.5) Churchill Brothers (99/39) Punjab FC (4.5) Punjab FC (4.6)
Indian Arrows (404) Indian Arrows (9) Aizawl FC (2.2) Indian Arrows (85/40) Aizawl FC (3.7) Aizawl FC (4.3)
Neroca FC (360) Real Kashmir (9) Indian Arrows (1.8) Neroca FC (81/44 TRAU FC (3.5) TRAU FC (3.7)
Real Kashmir (283) TRAU FC (9) TRAU FC (1.4) Real Kashmir (58/53) Indian Arrows (2.8) Indian Arrows (3.4)
as of March 11, 2020

It is therefore no surprise that the Kolkata side have breezed through the league campaign with barely anyone in touching distance. When the two legendary teams walk out for the Kolkata derby on March 15 for one last time, the table will say first-placed Mohun Bagan are taking on second-placed East Bengal. But the gulf in class has been significant between the Mariners and the rest of the clubs, not just their city rivals.

(All statistics via Instat Football)