Aizawl: The 25th game of the I-League will see title favorites East Bengal (EB) take on former champions Aizawl FC at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium here on Saturday.
In a strange coincidence, both teams go into the game on the back of losses to the same opponent and by an identical odd goal in three margins, as well as at their respective home grounds to the current leaders Chennai City FC.
As a result EB had their 100 percent win record at the start of the league all messed up and find themselves in fourth position after three games while Aizawl have had a much tougher start, managing just two points from their first five games and are at the bottom of the points table without a win to their name so far.
It does look like a mountain to climb for coach Gift Raikhan’s home team, given their strikers are not scoring and three of the five goals they have scored so far have come from set pieces.
Liberian striker Ansumanah Kromah did manage to get a field goal to his name in the previous game but returns clearly need to be much better.
Two players, Raikhan will surely look to play if he can, are Kyrgyzstani midfielder Bektur Talgat and Nigerian centre-back Kareem Nurain.
On the evidence so far, Bektur has looked the most enterprising among all Aizawl midfielders and deserves more game time than what he has been getting.
Kareem not only brings a lot of solidity in defence but also has a history of scoring goals. His absence in the last game due to injury made Aizawl all the more fallible.
Gift Raikhan made no attempts to hide his desperation on match day eve saying, “We are yet to win a match. We need that badly. Once we achieve it, I am sure we’ll gain more confidence for the upcoming matches.”
“We’ll attack against East Bengal. But while attacking, we shouldn’t make any mistake in defence. We committed one and Chennai punished us. That’s one area where we should be more careful tomorrow,” he added.
For the visitors, they need to put the last game, where they were outplayed by Chennai at home, behind them and refocus. Their main problem has been their midfield failing to take control and Syrian midfield general Mahmoud Al Amna’s absence due to injury is surely being felt by their Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez.
EB’s strikers Jobby Justin and Mexican Enrique Esqueda have scored five goals between them but coach Menendez might take the opportunity to test out Bali Gagandeep in this game. The striker who played a key role in Minerva’s title win last season is yet to get a game.
Ahead of the game, coach Menendez said, “We are worried about Aizawl’s high-intensity game. Their energy level is very high and we have to be apt to get a win against them.”
“After the last match, we have to get back to the winning ways sooner than later and tomorrow we’ll try our level best to get that win. Aizawl haven’t been able to get a win so far but that doesn’t mean that they are going to be an easy opponent.”
“We have seen their last match and we know how challenging this match is going to be,” Menendez said.