Things are rarely straightforward for East Bengal, are they?
The Red and Golds themselves have a new look as well — new investors, a new prefix, a new logo, a new coach and a new squad. As such, it is anyone’s guess who will start in the much awaited season opener against ATK Mohun Bagan.
It’s no secret that while the foreign recruitments are top notch, the Indian bench is somewhat lacking but one can only select five foreigners in the Starting XI.
So what should head coach Robbie Fowler do? As he accepted in the pre-match press conference, his team has had very little time to prepare. “We are massively behind all the teams in terms of preparations. Massively behind in terms of playing games. ATKMB have played a game and we haven’t, so we are coming into the season relatively new,” he said.
So how should he set up his side as he attempts to claim a win in the first ever Kolkata derby of the ISL? How does he stop Antonio Lopes Habas’ marauding team who won the title last season and are clear favourites this time as well?
The Bridge debates the big decisions facing the former Liverpool great ahead of Friday’s big game.
Predicting Fowler’s starting XI is tough, to say the least. The main question is, will Fowler look to compromise to meet the specific challenges posed by ATK Mohun Bagan? Or will he play according to his team’s strengths?
Fowler has kept everyone in the dark. “No one has a clue how we are going to play, what type of team we are. It’s up to us now to go out there and set a bit of a marker. We can do that. Because we got a great work ethic, a great team spirit. The players’ attitudes are absolutely first class. We can’t wait to get started. It’s been a long time. We have done all the work. We have come so far and we are ready,” he commented.
But if we go back to his Brisbane Roar days, it’s not hard to see that Fowler found success by implementing a possession-based style of football with a 3-4-3 formation. At East Bengal, also, the English coach could adapt a similar style.
While the goalkeeping spot is a coin toss between Debjit Majumder, who has enjoyed massive success in the Maidan previously, and the 25-year-old Sankar Roy, Fowler should employ a three-man defence line. Captain Danny Fox and Australian defender Scott Neville should be automatic choices but the third central back position is up for grabs. One of Rana Gharami or Gurtej Singh should get the nod while another option is Narayan Das.
At right wing back, 21-year-old Yumnam Gopi Singh could be ideal for Fowler given his pace and crossing abilities (we will try to explain why in detail in a later story) but Mohammad Irshad might also be considered. The left wing back position should be easier to pick with one of Narayan Das or Bikash Jairu being the automatic choice.
Matti Steinman will be one of the first names on the team sheet as he slots in just in front of defence. With Steinmann in a holding position, the squad’s true attacking potential could be unleashed. Accompanying the German mideo could be Eugeneson Lyngdoh or Surchandra Singh, both of whom are imaginative enough create chances for the forwards. And up top, Jacques Maghoma, Balwant Singh and Anthony Pilkington should provide enough formidability.
We reckon Aaron Amadi-Holloway and Jeje Lalpekhlua should start on the bench, at least for the first game.
East Bengal’s Best XI (3-4-3 Formation): Sankar Roy; Scott Neville, Danny Fox, Narayan Das; Yumnam Gopi Singh, Matti Steinmann, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Bikash Jairu; Jacques Maghoma, Balwant Singh, Anthony Pilkington
However strong or balanced the Red and Golds look on paper, the match against ATK Mohun Bagan will be a tough challenge. It is going to be the first match they are going as a team while the rivals have a settled squad. In fact, the Green and Maroons have already tasted a win in their opening match against Kerala Blasters. East Bengal’s big players — Pilkington, Maghoma, Fox and co — will undoubtedly need to step up if they are to get a positive result.
Having said that, we have to wait and watch how the teams fare on the pitch on Friday.