Kolkata: Having found their mojo back, Mohun Bagan will look to avenge their last month’s defeat and at the same time derail East Bengal title hopes in the return leg derby at the Salt Lake Stadium Sunday.
Mohun Bagan lost 2-3 in the first leg on December 16 but since then, the Mariners have managed to turn things around under the guidance of new coach Khalid Jamil, having won successive matches.
But a stern test awaits Jamil, who last season coached East Bengal as the I-League winning former Aizawl coach will bank on their star Haitian Sony Norde in the grudge match.
Norde, who played a crucial role in their I-League triumph in 2015, has had a long injury lay-off. He has shown glimpses of his class, scoring four quality goals in the game time he has been able to cull out thus far.
Pintu Mahata, Arijit Bagui and Omar Elhusseiny are all available for selection, which is definitely going to boost Mohun Bagan’s confidence.
But Jamil will have midfield worries after the duo of Yuta Kinowaki and Darren Caldeira were outplayed against NEROCA.
It remains to be seen whether they can hold their ground against red and golds’ Lalrindika Ralte and Kassim Aidara.
With 22 points from 12 matches, the red-and-gold brigade are ahead on paper. A win will close the gap on leaders Chennai City FC who are at the top with 30 points from 13 games.
But a loss meant that East Bengal’s maiden title hopes will become shaky as Mohun Bagan, who are sixth in the table with 21 from 13 matches, will look to upset their rivals plans.
East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez has already said their Mexican recruit Enrique Esqueda is fit and is raring to go, making it a formidable attacking troika with Jaime Colado and Jobby Justin.
Manoj Mohammad will be serving his suspension while Samad Ali Mallick is expected to slot in at the left back position.
For Bagan, Eze Kingsley will lead the defence and a lot will depend on Bagan’s back four.
Alejandro put up a brave front ahead of the derby, saying: “Mohun Bagan are a difficult match. We are focusing on the game. All the teams that are fighting for the title are difficult. But we are focusing only on the next match. We have to fight and get full three points to fight for the title.”
Kickoff: 5pm IST.