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Strong title contenders East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will look to outshine each other and record their first win of their new I-League campaign when they lock horns in a big-ticket derby at the revamped Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams, tipped to win the league crown after other contender Bengaluru FC jumping ship to the Indian Super League (ISL) bandwagon, drew their opening set of matches leaving both camps much to work on.
While East Bengal threw away a two-goal lead to be held by reigning champions Aizawl FC 2-2 at home, Mohun Bagan saw Minerva substitute Moinuddin pour cold water on their 1-0 winning ambitions with a stoppage time equaliser in Ludhiana.
East Bengal looked out of shape defensively, conceding both the goals from set-pieces against Aizawl. On Sunday, coach Khalid Jamil could deploy Arnab Mondal as one of the centre backs as Salam Ranjan Singh was not that impressive.
Former Mohun Bagan cente-back Eduardo Ferreira is likely to keep his place although the experienced Gurwinder Singh partnering Arnab at the heart of the defence cannot be ruled out.
Mohun Bagan's Sony Norde was in sublime form as usual in their first outing -- his 29th minute free-kick just missing the left corner of the goal post, and later in the first half, a moment of brilliance from the Haitian leading to the first goal.
Therefore, it was not unusual to see the red and gold brigade practising a lot of set pieces on the eve of the game. There was separate rehearsal for Norde's stinging curlers.
Jamil has the ever-nippy Yusa Katsumi in his ranks and also Syrian Mahmoud Al-Amna who looked good in the last game. For Katsumi, turning up against his former club would add to the sub-plot.
For four seasons, the Japanese playmaker had been an integral part of the Mohun Bagan team, helping Sanjoy Sen's side win the I-League in 2014-2015 and the Federation Cup the following season.
Katsumi also shared an excellent on-field chemistry Norde during his stay at the club.
"I had a good combination with Sony for the past four seasons. I know he's a key player for Mohun Bagan and we must stop him. But we are preparing this match to play not only against Sony, but Mohun Bagan as a team," he said two days prior to the match.
The game is a 2pm kickoff, the first time since the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan hosted its first derby in 1984, is also a cause of concern, atleast for 'home team' Mohun Bagan.
According to Mohun Bagan assistant coach Shankarlal Chakraborty, the players require "necessary adjustment" as far as their food intake is concerned, when it comes to such an early kick-off.
The game is expected to be a packed to the rafters as ticket sales depict. "I have been given to understand that all tickets for this game have been sold out. We are expecting a spectacle tomorrow," I-League CEO Sunando Dhar told IANS.
The last time the two sides met at this venue, which was closed for renovation work for more than a year for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, was on January 23, 2016. The I-League derby had ended 1-1.
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at email@example.com)
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