• Ritwik Khanna

ISL Review: ATK Mohun Bagan too strong for East Bengal in Kolkata Derby

Who is going to stop ATK Mohun Bagan? That is the pressing question that emerges after Antonio Habas’ men secured a 2-0 win in the first ever Kolkata derby in the Indian Super League. Last year's defending champions look ominously strong. The performance in the opening clash against Kerala Blasters looked a bit rusty but in retrospect, that can be chalked down to the lack of a proper pre-season. As the 2020-21 season gathers steam, one can only expect the Mariners to get better.


With the tried and tested partnership of Roy Krishna and David Williams reinstated in the starting line-up, Bagan looked sharp in attack and solid in defence. It took them a while to get out of the blocks though with the first major chance falling to East Benal’s marquee man Anthony Pilkington. Pilkington dawdled and Tiri got back to clear away with some half-hearted shouts for a penalty waved away by the referee.


Once they got into their stride, Bagan found joy through the unlikely source of Prabir Das in the right wing back position. His delivery was not quite on the mark but two of his crosses nearly caught out East Bengal’s keeper Debjit Majumder - one bouncing out off the post and the other being palmed away. Majumder made a smart save down to his left from a Javier volley on the turn following a throw-in.


Majumder will probably look back at the opening goal and feel that he should have saved that. Jayesh Rane, one of the best players on the field, played a smart through ball to Javier who laid off to Krishna. Krishna’s shot was well-struck but it was sufficiently near to the keeper to expect a save. Majumder’s footwork seemed to be poor on this occasion and just like that, Bagan wrestled control.


If there were question marks over the opener, Manvir’s second had no doubts. The substitute received the ball down the channel and got away from the defender to reach the touchline before cutting back into the box to curl one into the top corner with his left boot. A sublime finish from a talented player that struggled a bit over the past couple of seasons under Sergio Lobera at FC Goa.


There were some positives for East Bengal manager Robbie Fowler. Matti Steinmann looked very commanding in the centre of the park, especially in the first half. Pilkington grew into the game and had a good shot saved by Arindam in the second half. The defence looked comfortable enough for the majority of the match and with some minutes under their belt, will only get better. The derby as their first match was always going to be tough and in all fairness, Fowler’s men delivered a respectable performance.


The focus, however, has to be on Habas’ team. Last season, they scored the second highest goals and conceded the second fewest. With the additions of Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri, you can put your money on Mohun Bagan comfortably having the best defense come the end of the season. In attack, Krishna and Williams are the best strike partnership in the league. McHugh and Javier look settled in midfield while Rane and Halder provide the legs to the team. It is very early in the season but the Mariners are very much the team to beat and the league is theirs to lose.


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