East Bengal’s season got off to a disastrous start with a seven-game winless streak. Kerala Blasters got off to a winless start that lasted six matches. Those two teams couldn’t be separated when they first met earlier this season. And on Sunday, they will both do it again.
Bakary Kone’s own goal in the 13th minute gave the Red and Golds an early lead in their opener against the Blasters. But a period of late-game pressure helped the then “home” team equalize in added time thanks to a header from Jeakson Singh. At the end of this game, the Blasters were the happiest team.
But these two teams are heading to their next game with a different mindset. Yes, both teams are still far from their desired position on the table, but they have improved their display in the last few games.
The Blasters ended their winless run with a 2-0 victory over Hyderabad, but followed with back-to-back losses. After being led onto the pitch by Mumbai City and Odisha, they delivered an encouraging performance and a win over Jamshedpur which set the fans up for an exciting game against ISL debutants East Bengal.
East Bengal, on the other hand, are undefeated in their last three games, which is a big deal for a side that got off to a bad start. They secured their first win of the season against Odisha, then held FC Goa to a draw with 10 men on the pitch and beat Bengaluru in their final game.
Kibu Vicuna had struggled to find his best XI players at the start of the season but is now closer than ever to what can be considered the most effective formation for his style of play.
Jordan Murray, who clinched a brace in his last game, looks in better form than Gary Hooper who struggled in the final third. Vicuna also tried a system that accommodates both forwards and could be the plan for the Yellows.
Sahal’s role is not yet well defined but he remains a threat from the left flank and is encouraged to run inside races. The outstanding performer of the Yellow Army, however, is Argentine striker Facundo Pereyra who has settled into his role in the team. He has two assists to his name so far.
The signing of 22-year-old East Bengal Bright Enobakhare in January added a formidable new dimension to Robbie Fowler’s attack, which was brutal before his arrival.
Against Goa he scored a solo goal which is arguably one of ISL’s best goals and will pose a massive threat against the Blasters’ defense. The Nigerian will lick his lips at the prospect of facing the worst defense in the league which had already scored 19 goals.
Kibu Vicuna and Robbie Fowler on the outside look like two managers who have been under tremendous pressure but made a difference. But they both have to keep winning and a draw when facing each other is useless for both teams with playoff spots in mind.
Playing for a draw doesn’t really help either team. Are the teams going to give their all for a win or would they deem it too risky?