With hectic jockeying and jostling for positions at the top of the I-League table, defending champions Bengaluru FC take on East Bengal in Bangalore on Sunday with both teams needing all points to remain in contention for the title.
The hosts have 28 points from 15 outings and in second spot behind Mohun Bangan while East Bengal are fourth on 26, also from 15 matches, just one behind third placed Royal Wahingdoh.
Thus, Sunday’s game is expected to be intensely competitive as both teams have everything to gain and plenty to lose as they scrap to within sighting distance of the I-League crown.
Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood is quite pleased with the current form of his team that has three consecutive wins, including one against AFC Cup rivals Maziya S & RC whom they beat in Male to qualify for the knockout after easing past Pune FC and Bharat FC, in Pune in the I-League.
The home team will be keen to avenge their January 28 defeat at the Salt Lake Stadium when East Bengal rode on a 53rd minute strike by Abhinash Ruidas to seal a 1-0 win. Bengaluru FC played like a careless millionaire in the casino, throwing away chance after chance to pay the price.
The hosts have come a long way since then to strengthen their bid for a second consecutive I-League title in just their second season.
They are in the midst of a brilliant spell that has highlighted not only the inherent talent, but also the enviable depth and options available for Westwood who has never hesitated in exercising his choices.
For the Male game, Westwood benched Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Shankar Sampingiraj and Beikhokhei Beingaichho while skipper Suni Chhetri, who scored twice in the AFC Cup game, seems to have rediscovered his scoring form after being almost overshadowed by C.K. Vineeth, who has scored two goals in his last two I-League appearances.
Bengaluru FC are also well-placed in the midfield and defence that has often spared them the blushes with the likes of Curstis Osano and the towering John Johnson in the centre, holding fort.
In contrast, Westwood’s counterpart Dutchman Eelco Schattorie has plenty on his mind after East Bengal lost 0-1 to Malaysian team Johor Darul Ta’Zim earlier this week to be eliminated from the AFC Cup, and not comfortably placed in I-League.
Schattorie, who opted to field a second string team against the Johor outfit after making as many as 10 changes, is expected to start Sunday’s game with a fresh set of players, but still be missing two players – Milan Susak, who is injured, and the suspended Robert Lalthlamuana.