Round six of the Airtel I-League will have only five fixtures as the East Bengal – Churchill Brothers clash has been postponed due to the former’s AFC Cup involvement. Unbeaten Bengaluru FC are back in action as they host Dempo, who recorded a morale-boosting 3-1 victory over East Bengal last week. The newly-formed Bangalore club lies second in the table, just behind Salgaocar on goal difference, and will be eager for their fourth straight win.
The biggest talking point of this upcoming round will be the presence of the players who have recently joined I-League clubs on loan from IMG-Reliance. The deadlock between I-League teams and AIFF’s commercial and marketing partners IMG-R looks to be getting over now as Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan have signed players who will also feature in the newly-proposed Indian Super League next year.
Mohammedan Sporting have already signed reigning AIFF Player of the Year Syed Rahim Nabi, midfielder Manish Maithani and goalkeeper Luis Barreto. They are also likely to complete the deals with Kashmiri duo Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Ishfaq Ahmed. All five will be available for Mohammedan Sporting’s clash against sponsorless United SC on Thursday.
Meanwhile Mohun Bagan are set to have four former Arrows players on loan from IMG-R with Pritam Kotal and Shouvik Ghosh having already signed. The two Kolkata clubs are the first teams to successfully negotiate deals with IMG-R and interestingly both teams have had difficult starts in the I-League so far.
Besides new signing Kotal, Mohun Bagan were also hoping to have their skipper and talisman Odafa Okolie available for their clash against league leaders Salgaocar but the Nigerian suffered another setback in his recovery and may not make the match squad also.
Another Kolkata club that is close to a deal with IMG-R is United SC but it will be the other way round as eight of their players could be loaned to AIFF’s commercial partners in a bid to ease the club’s financial problems. After three games without a win, United SC would be aiming for three points against a Mohammedan Sporting side that looks much stronger with the additions of IMG-R players and possible return of Brazilian defender Luciano Sobrosa.
Mumbai FC’s unbeaten start was ended by Salgaocar last week and thus will be looking for maximum points against Shillong Lajong, who haven’t won since round one. The only fixture in Goa this round sees an in-form Sporting Clube side aiming for their third consecutive victory against winless and rock-bottom Rangdajied United.
Wednessday: Bengaluru vs Dempo (16:00); Mohun Bagan vs Salgaocar (17:00); Mumbai FC vs Shillong Lajong (19:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Thursday: Sporting Clube vs Rangdajied United (16:00); Mohammedan Sporting vs United SC (17:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Game of the round
Bengaluru FC vs Dempo
This clash sees the battle of two of the youngest foreign coaches of the I-League as Bengaluru’s Ashley Westwood is up against Arthur Papas of Dempo. It has been a near perfect start for Bengaluru in their debut I-League campaign as they have won three of their four matches but more importantly they have exhibited a very attractive playing style.
It is important for Bengaluru to remain pleasing on the eye in order to increase their growing fanbase but their round five opponents Dempo also have played some nice stuff so far and especially in the last match where they outplayed AFC Cup semi-finalists East Bengal.
So clearly, the coaching philosophies of Westwood and Papas are similar and hence an open and entertaining match can be expected. However Bengaluru have four points more than Dempo with a game in hand and the main reason behind it has been the quick adaptation of the JSW-owned club’s foreigners.
While Simon Colosimo and Honda are still getting used to Indian football, Bengaluru’s John Johnson and Curtis Osano have made a very good start and can be considered the best central defensive partnership until now. Of course the fact that Bengaluru have played all four of their games at home has been a key factor but let’s not forget that they are a new team with no relegation for the first three seasons so they don’t really have to challenge for the title.
But Dempo on the other hand are the most successful club in I-League history and have title aspirations this time also. Papas will be given time to rebuild the side after the end of a long and successful era at the club under Armando Colaco. But the Australian is an ambitious coach and thus will want to finish first at the end of the season and to be fair also has the players to achieve that.
Therefore Dempo will be aiming to build on that notable away win over East Bengal by becoming the first team win at Bengaluru FC. But Westwood’s team will also be looking to maintain their good start and will have the backing of a young and passionate home crowd. This promises to be a very interesting contest.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Ranti Martins (United SC)
The top scorer of the last three seasons is suddenly having a goal drought as he has failed to score in his last three matches. So the phrase ‘he scores when he wants’ can’t be used for Ranti at present but the Nigerian has enough quality and experience to regain his form at any time so Mohammedan Sporting must be wary.
Indian: Syed Rahim Nabi (Mohammedan Sporting)
India’s Mr Versatile is the first big name from IMG-Reliance to sign for an I-League club and would be aiming for a dream debut in his second spell at Mohammedan Sporting. Nabi’s signing will not only improve Mohammedan Sporting on the pitch but also give a massive psychological boost to their squad which has only managed three points in their first four games.