Mohun Bagan trail I-League 2017 leaders Aizawl FC by seven points with two games in hand. The Marinersstart off the final phase of the season with a tough weekand to start things off, they host title holders Bengaluru FC.
In the run-up to the April Fool's Day game, Mohun Bagan head coach Sanjoy Sen almost thought his counterpart Albert Roca was joking when he declared he would like to rotate the squad in lieu of the fixture congestion ahead of the two teams.
Sen however, didn't want to be fooled around and gave an explanation why. "Even if they field a lighter side, we also have to play against Dhaka's Abahani in three day's time. We already know that they are a sufficiently strong side. I don't know what lineup will they field, we will be in our full strength and try to win the game," he said.
"We have to overcome adversities. We have been able to overcome the obstacles, be it the flight journeys between AFC Cup games and I-League games or be it the international break," added Sen in context to the jam-packed schedule he and his charges are facing with games on 1st, 4th, 9th and 12th, 15th and 18th April.
PREVIEW: Mohun Bagan vs Bengaluru FC
Bengaluru FC have been Mohun Bagan's traditional title rivals over the past three seasons but theBlues'abysmal showings this term did not deter Sen from praising the two-time I-League champions.
"There is nothing to speak much ahead of an important game. We have to perform on the field and win. It is one of the crucial games of the season. There is nothing new about Bengaluru FC. They are one of the strongest sides in the I-League. It is a tough game for us and we are in a tough place at the moment. We have to prove our doubters wrong and win three points."
This game was rescheduled from 31st January owing to both clubs' AFC club competitionscommitments and as suchMohun Bagan and Bengaluru face each other for the third successive timeeither sideof the international break. The I-League tie at Kanteerava was a goalless affair but Sanjoy Sen lost to Bengaluru for the very first time as two days later in the AFC Cup at the same venue.
"They have proper players for all positions, (Cameron) Watson has been superb. Udanta(Singh) is growing everyday. They know what style we play and we know theirs. Our strikers did not capitalise in the last game therefore it was goalless, now they have to understand the importance of the game and seize the opportunity," the former United SC coach stated.
The international break meant that quite a few of Bagan's players were called up for the national side. Most notably, Sony Norde returned to the city during the wee hours of Friday morning and went straight into training. However it remains to be seen if Sen will risk the Haitian with the Kolkata derby looming large next weekend.
"There is nothing to see or judge. He has had a long tiring flight journey. He needs rest. He is in the 18 man squad for sure but I am yet to decide if we are going to start with him or not," Sen answered all queries on last I-League's Player of the Year.
Pritam Kotal, Anas Edathodika and Jeje Lalpekhlua were part of India's victorious trip to the South-East and Sen provided anupdate on the trio as well. "They arrived late and I did not ask them to train yesterday"
"The biggest thing is that they have played well against tough oppositions and now they are in a condition to play as well. Whatever training they do today should be followed up by proper rest. Rest is very important for them now," said the 56-year-old.
Even though Mohun Bagan have conceded the least number of goals in the league, the oddity inthe defensive pairing of Anas Edathodika and Eduardo Ferreira was one not to be missed during the cradling phases of the season. During recent times, the duo have grown into each other's game and have seemed to communicate much better among themselves.
Sen called upon the duo to improve massively in the coming games. "We have been training for that and there have been many instructions given to them. Probably they are not able to carry them out during the game. Sometimes, they surprise me by their own tactics. The players know what to do in important games," the former Mohammedan SC coach commented.
"I do not think losing tomorrow is an option and it will mean the end of the title challenge for us. I have a feeling 34-35 points will probably be the target for the winning team this time, and we will still be in a position to achieve that," Sen concluded sharing his own mathematic calculations for the title.
However, with a week in between the second leg of the Kolkata derby - on 9th April, Sen started the verbal banter replying to East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan's statement,where the Briton wished for Mohun Bagan to lose against Bengaluru on Saturday evening.
Sen retorted, "May God bless him. He is entitled to his own wishes. Things do not depend on what he wants and does not."