The Barasat Stadium will today witness the first match of I-League 2015-16, a do-or-die season for the league, when defending champions Mohun Bagan play host to the newly-promoted Aizawl FC. On paper Aizawl will be the underdogs, but as Royal Wahingdoh showed last season, teams who have nothing to lose, can easily upset the apple cart.
After all the glitz and glamour, blinding at times, of the Indian Super League, India's premier domestic competition gets underway today. There will be no fireworks in the sky; all of that is expected to be produced on the pitch, by two exciting sides. Mohun Bagan, the oldest football club in Asia, takes on Aizawl FC, one of the newest in India, in what is expected to be a rousing encounter.
Mohun Bagan pipped Bengaluru FC to the line in the 2014/15 campaign, with Bello Razaq scoring a late equalizer in the final game to give the Sabooj-Maroon Brigade their first national league title since the 2001/02 season.
Their opponent Aizawl FC dominated the second division, and won it with a seven-point lead over their closest rival Lonestar Kashmir FC. They also picked up the Mizoram Premier League title in December, beating Chandmari FC 3-0 in the final.
Both these clubs have beefed up their squad in the transfer window. Mohun Bagan will be under pressure to deliver once again, amidst huge expectations from the fans. Aizawl, on the other hand, can play a lot freely, as avoiding relegation is their only target in the debut season.
Mohun Bagan will be missing some key players in this opener. Defender Luciano Sobrosa is facing problems with his visa, and is yet to join the squad. Goan midfielder Lenny Rodrigues is struggling with a groin strain, and is unlikely to feature for the Mariners until after two weeks into the event.
Sony Norde, who was Mohun Bagan's most crucial player last season, is away on international duty, while midfielder Bikramjit Singh has picked up a foot injury. The good news for manager Sanjoy Sen is that Raju Gaikwad and Subash Singh have regained full fitness.
Aizawl, on the other hand, have a fully-fit squad at their disposal, with the exception of Fanai Lalrinpuia. The striker will miss this game due to an injury.
Sanjoy Sen will use his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Balwant Singh is likely to lead the line in attack, with Cornell Glen playing in a withdrawn role behind him. The Trinidadian will have to shoulder a lot of responsibility, along with the effervescent Katsumi Yusa, in the absence of Norde. Lalkamal Bhowmick will partner Souvik Chakraborty in the center of the midfield.
Aizawl manager Manuel Retamero has persisted with the 4-4-2 diamond formation used by his predecessor Hmingthana Zadeng. The Mizoram-based side are known to use their wings with great effect. VL Brandon and Albert Zohmingmawia possess wonderful dribbling skills and lightning pace, and the pair will put the Mohun Bagan fullbacks, Pritam Kotal and Dhanachandra Singh, under a lot of pressure.
David Lalrinmuana, captain of Aizawl, will partner new signing Yuta Kinowaki at the center of the midfield, with the Japanese playing in a more defensive role.
Mohun Bagan 2-1 Aizawl FC
Aizawl will give the champions a run for their money, but Sanjoy Sen has enough strength on the bench to win this match in the second half.