ATK Mohun Bagan will be looking for three points when it meets rival Emami East Bengal, in the first ‘Kolkata Derby’ of the season in a Durand Cup Group B league fixture, at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Sunday. Going by the form and fitness of the two opponents in the new season, there are no clear favourites in the upcoming tie.
But on the charts, ATK Mohun Bagan keeps a better shape having been able to preserve a big part of the squad that reached the semifinals of the previous edition of the Indian Super League. Ever since ATK and Mohun Bagan got merged as a new entity in 2020, it has won all five meetings with East Bengal. This may be going to be the fact again as East Bengal returns to the contest with a new investor in Emami and very limited time to invest in the team’s preparation under the former National coach Stephen Constantine.
ATK Mohun Bagan suffered a reverse (2-3) in its first outing of the season against a very young and spirited I-League side Rajasthan United. ATKMB’s Spanish coach Juan Ferrando realised that the domestic component – the Indian players – of the team is still recovering from the ravages of the previous season.
In its current form, the team’s attack greatly struggled in the finishing department despite dominating a greater part of the action in the attacking third.
The story was repeated in its second match, which ended in a 1-1 draw against Mumbai City FC. Manivir Singh, Asish Rai, Ashique Kuruniyan and even Liston Colaco appeared to be suffering from sluggishness when they were presented with a scoring opportunity. This may be the advantage that the opponent will be counting on in the battle for bragging rights.
“We will go for a win. Everyone wants to play and perform better than last season. Of course, the team is still going through preparations and I hope they are ready for a better showing in the next match,” Juan Ferrando said after the team’s practice.
While ATK Bagan has been among goals (scoring three so far), Emami East Bengal has managed to play two goalless draws much to the discomfort of Constantine, who got very little time for pre-season preparations with the hurriedly-assembled side.
“We have started later than everybody else and are still trying to get match fitness. Hopefully, the match against ATK Mohun Bagan will give us the opportunity to find our form,” said Constantine on the eve of the match.
East Bengal, which last won the Derby in January 2019, will have to get itself together and bring up a performance that can break the resolve of an opponent which has both quality and class on its side.