ISL 2023-24: Playoffs spot at stake as East Bengal FC take on Mohun Bagan Super Giant in Kolkata Derby

With a lot at stake including a strong position in the playoffs race, the high-octane Kolkata Derby returns to the Indian Super League

Kolkata, March 9 (IANS) With a lot at stake including a strong position in the playoffs race, the high-octane Kolkata Derby returns to the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 with Mohun Bagan Super Giant and East Bengal FC locking horns at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Sunday.

A lot has changed for both teams since they last squared off in the top tier in February. The Red and Gold Brigade were in imperious form back then, high on confidence, fresh from the back of a victory in the Kalinga Super Cup. Contrastingly, the Mariners had been dealt three straight losses in the league at that time. However, head coach Antonio Lopez Habas has inspired a formidable turnaround since then, with the team remaining unbeaten in the top tier under his watch so far. They have won four times and drawn twice in their last six matches and are within touching distance of the top spot right now.

With 33 points from 16 games, the Mariners can equal league leaders Mumbai City FC (36) with a win, whilst having a game in hand compared to the Islanders who have played 18 games so far as compared to the 16 of the Habas-coached team.

On the other hand, East Bengal FC is not in the best run of form at the moment, losing thrice in their last five games. However, the team has 18 points from as many games, and a win will take them on level terms with the sixth-placed Jamshedpur FC, who have 21 points from 19 encounters until now. Habas hailed his players for showing tremendous progression after their last win against Jamshedpur FC. He spoke highly of the fact that the entire unit is clicking cohesively and covering each blade of the grass to get the desired outcome, game after game.

Mohun Bagan Super Giant is yet to face a loss against East Bengal FC in their seven faceoffs so far in the ISL. The Mariners have won six of these games and drawn once until now. The reverse fixture that resulted in a 2-2 draw was in fact the only time since 2020 that they dropped points against the Red & Gold Brigade in the ISL. Only against Odisha FC has Mohun Bagan Super Giant played more games (9) without losing in the competition. Their impressive attacking unit can unravel the opposition’s backline consistently, with the team having scored the most goals – 27 – from open play amongst all teams in ISL 2023-24.

In fact, along with Hyderabad FC, the Mariners are the only team yet to score from a penalty in the current campaign. Currently, there is a three-way race for the ISL League Winners Shield, with Odisha FC, Mumbai City FC, and the Mariners eyeing the top prize, along with a fairly good chance for the fourth-placed FC Goa too. Irrespective of the magnitude of the derby, Habas will not want his team to lose points from the coming contest.

East Bengal FC head coach Carles Cuadrat has expressed the desire to clinch all 12 points possible in their remaining four matches. Whilst the Red and Gold Brigade is dependent on NorthEast United FC, Chennaiyin FC, and Jamshedpur FC dropping points to secure the playoffs qualification, Cuadrat will want his boys to be at the top of their game to overcome the Mariners and bag their first ISL win against the city rivals.

East Bengal FC snapped a three-game winless streak at home with a 1-0 victory against Chennaiyin FC at the Salt Lake Stadium. The fact that the team has taken progressive steps under the tutelage of Carles Cuadrat is undeniable and simultaneously supported by facts too. They have conceded 19 goals so far, their lowest tally after 18 games of any ISL season. Further, the 19 strikes they have notched thus far is their second-best tally after these many games of any campaign, following the 21 of them that they had bagged in the 2022-23 campaign.

With a tackle success rate of 73.1%, East Bengal FC led the league in this regard, over seven percentage points more than Mohun Bagan Super Giant (65.9%). They have won 185 out of the 234 tackle attempts in the 2023-24 campaign.

In the ISL, the archrivals have played seven times with Mohun Bagan Super Giant winning six times and one match ending in a draw.


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