Sanjoy Sen started Mohun Bagan in a formation similar to the one that won the Kolkata Derby, and Jeje Lalpekhlua was preferred over Balwant Singh alongside Darryl Duffy up front.
Surinder Singh opted for a defensive shape, arguably to negate the effect of Sony Norde on Mohun Bagan’s left wing.
As expected, Mohun Bagan concentrated most of their attacks down their left side. While Anas and Eduardo mostly stayed back, Pritam Kotal was the more offensive full back on the right than Raju Gaikwad on the left.
With Pintu Mahata given the nod to start as the U-22 player on the right side, Mohun Bagan attempted to maximize Sony Norde’s attacking potential as the left winger, and it was clear why Raju played a more conservative role than Pritam. Mahata’s defensive frailties allowed Minerva’s Arashpreet to venture up the field frequently but most of the play was on the other side of the pitch.
Sehnaj Singh was the defensive midfielder sitting as the protective foil in front of the back four. His predisposition to stay back and try to break down Minerva’s attacks allowed Katsumi Yusa to operate above him with freedom.
Yusa effectively took a free role, trying to dictate the play from deep. Minerva were content to sit deep, win the ball and counterattack rather than control the tempo themselves, and so finding half spaces in Minerva’s defense became important for Jeje and Duffy.
The Mariners attack strategy was central to Yusa’s scheming as the central (deep-lying in some ways) playmaker and the dribbling prowess of Sony Norde.
Although Mohun Bagan’s primary build up and attack strategy coming into the game was possession football, Minerva’s high defense line (that meant Norde and Duffy were caught offside often) at times necessitated a direct outlook. (Mahata on the right was replaced by Prabir at the half hour mark to add some strength and composure in the midfield and enhance attacks through Norde on the other side).
Minerva, for their part, resorted to direct attacking tactics as diagonal balls were played to David and Krishna. With two between Amandeep, Victor Amobi and Simranjeet not venturing forward in order to help the defense against Norde (and Yusa), Germanpreet’s quick passing and transitions were responsible to a large proportion of Minerva’s chances.
However, it was Mohun Bagan with the best chances (and quite wasteful with them). With Sehnaj linking defense and midfield, the team from Kolkata even attempted to find Norde, Duffy and Jeje through long plays from the former and Yusa, who was the roving free midfielder just in front of the attacking third.
Minerva’s Kim and Kareem in central defense completed over 20 clearances between them alone, and their tackles and blocks were also in double digits. This allowed many second balls up for grabs, and Sehnaj was made responsible for winning them in the second half (probably acting on Sanjoy Sen’s half time team talk).
As Moinuddin, Amandeep, Simranjeet and Victor Amobi took turns to mark Sony Norde – at times, there were as many as three Minerva players adopting man marking tactics to stifle the Haitian – Sehnaj’s second balls won allowed Mohun Bagan to apply consistent pressure on Minerva.
Quick defence to attack transitions and Yusa’s combination play with Norde and Duffy created chances behind Minerva’s defense line but many of them were wasted by Jeje and Duffy. The goal was nearly a reflection of this pattern, but Sony Norde’s positioning to receive an assisting through ball and his pace to pull away from Kim and Kareem allowed him to finish at Arshdeep’s far post.
The result carries Mohun Bagan above Aizawl in the league table, but it also means that next week’s first vs. second clash when Aizawl entertain Mohun Bagan will effectively be the title-decider.
(Article written by Akarsh, Football content Analyst. Follow him @akarshvenkat )