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I-League 2017: Mohun Bagan vs Bengaluru FC Preview: Mariners seek turnaround as business end draws near logo 31-03-2017

Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC literally pick up from where they left before the international break as they play out the reverse fixture in the 2016/17 I-League in Kolkata on Saturday. The two heavyweights will be facing each other for the third time on the spin but the monotony has been broken thanks to the two-week international break that just finished. This match itself was rescheduled following Bagan and Bengaluru's commitments in AFC club competitions on 31st January. A goalless draw in Bengaluru's home leg was followed up by a 2-1 win on the first matchday of the AFC Cup, which was Sanjoy Sen's first ever defeat to the Blues. However, Sen would have bigger fish to fry than to sulk over that defeat come Saturday. Mohun Bagan have a chance to cut down their gap with second-placed East Bengal, should they win. Trailing by four points with a game in hand after Bengaluru, Bagan will only have a one point difference between them and the leaders Aizawl FC if they secure victory in the Kolkata derby next week, considering how things stand on the table. But the pair of testing league ties could not have come at a worse time for Sen and his charges. A doubtful starter will be Sony Norde, who would travel 20-odd hours straight and reach only during the wee hours of Friday morning after he saw his nation Haiti get knocked out of the CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifying by Nicaragua from the bench. Sen would definitely size up his fitness and if need be, he would not hesitate to send him on as a substitute. Another bothering aspect would be fulfilling the Under-22 quota as first choice Subhasish Bose will be serving out a suspension, following his double yellow at Kanteerava three Saturdays ago. Second-in-command Raynier Fernandes is injured and therefore, Azharuddin Mallick, who scored a delectable goal in the same fixture last season has been called upon along with Sourav Das into the 18-man-squad. India internationals Pritam Kotal, Anas Edathodika and Jeje Lalpekhlua returned to training on Friday but the Mizoram-born striker might have to warm the bench given Sen's affinity towards Balwant Singh to partner Darryl Duffy. Katsumi Yusa who overcame a waist strain scare on Wednesday will lead out the side as he was seen practising dead-ball situations aplenty in the lead up to the game. Bagan's best player this season, Prabir Das who has single-handedly changed games from a losing position, will slot into a full back role.

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In what is a rare piece of good news for The Mariners, shot-stopper Debjit Majumder will don the gloves once again after missing out the trip to Bengaluru earlier this month. For the fallen but yet not beaten Southern Eagles of Bangalore, a seven-game winless run ended all hopes of defending their league crown. However, the month of March saw them reversing fortunes as the first game of the month delivered the elusive victory, ending the treacherous spell. Two draws in the I-League and the AFC Cup win over Mohun Bagan since will boost Albert Roca and his men who will look to be the party spoilers in Mohun Bagan's challenge to reach the top. Roca who is under immense pressure to lead Bengaluru FC to at least a top four finish would view this encounter as a knockout with a direct rival and rightly so. Two seasons ago, this match had immense significance in the title race and last year it was nothing short of a dead rubber with Ashley Westwood-coached Bengaluru already having won the title and fielded a young lineup only to get thrashed 5-0 by the hosts in Siliguri. This time around, The Blues will be hoping to claw their way back and the performances of their Indian stars would certainly spur them on. Sunil Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan and Udanta Singh were on the scoresheet for Bengaluru in their past three games. Chhetri and Jhingan got a goal each and Udanta recorded an impressive assist during the international games for India. With the domestic contingent in good form, it has been the repeated mistakes of the foreign recruits which have come to haunt the side in recent times. Juanan and John Johnson have been abysmal in defence with the latter even going to score an own goal against Chennai City. Bengaluru have overcome their biggest injury concern as Amrinder Singh will be back between the posts. Apart from the long-term injury list, there have been no casualties during the international break and Roca is likely to go in with a 4-3-3 with Serbian striker Marjan Jugovic sitting out yet another game. The game promises plenty if Chhetri and his troops take advantage of the frail Bagan defence and Duffy and Balwant the other way round. However, with the last stretch of the I-League in front of both the teams, it would not be surprising if both teams start the game warily. All roads lead to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium unless the authorities play a sour April Fool's Day prank. If they do not, kick-off will be at 7:05 PM IST.




Injured: Raju Gaikwad, Kinshuk Debnath, Pronay Halder, Kean Lewis, Raynier Fernandes

Doubtful: Sony Norde

Suspended: Subhasish Bose

Key Players: Katsumi Yusa, Balwant Singh BENGALURU F.C.

Injured: Lalthuammawia Ralte, Rino Anto, Gursimrat Singh Gill, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai

Doubtful: None

Suspended: None

Key Players: Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh

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