The last time East Bengal visited the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, things were rather charged. It was the spring of 2017, and the then I-League table-topper handed defending champion Bengaluru FC a crushing 3-1 defeat, masterminded by an erstwhile crowd favorite in the Garden City, Robin Singh.
Five-and-a-half years since, things are more sedate. East Bengal is no longer the force it once was, finishing in the bottom three the past two seasons and currently 10th out of 11 Indian Super League (ISL) teams. BFC has fared a bit better, with two consecutive mid-table finishes and now eighth. Robin is plying his trade with Bangalore Super Division club Sporting Club Bengaluru.
Friday evening’s encounter can thus help serve a dual purpose — navigating this season’s troubled waters and serving a polite reminder of their erstwhile top-dog status.
Both East Bengal and BFC come into the match having suffered back-to-back defeats. Their styles of play have also not inspired much confidence. Stephen Constantine’s East Bengal plays largely rugged football, with increased focus on counter-attacks and set-pieces.
BFC is still figuring out what works best under Simon Grayson. The on and off presence of creator Javi Hernandez and the total absence of striker Prince Ibara haven’t helped and the side has scored just twice in four games. But a fortnight’s gap since the last match would have helped the Englishman brainstorm.
“It has come at a very good time for us,” Grayson said of the break. “Players have worked very hard on tactical and technical conditioning. We have had a lot of injuries and hopefully a lot more players will now be available.
“We have got a lot of players in the squad who can score goals and get assists. [But] we must have a more positive attitude and more belief in each individual. If you get a one-on-one situation, take somebody on. If you have got half a yard in the box, get a shot off. Do not pass it to someone else. Take more responsibility,” Grayson advised.
Constantine, on the other hand, has harped on his wards’ fighting spirit and will look for an energetic performance at a stadium where they have traditionally found support. There is also forward Cleiton Silva, formerly of BFC, whose wisdom he can tap into. But starters in midfielder Alex Lima and defender Souvik Chakrabarti are mostly out because of injuries.
“Have we been good in all of our games? No, we have not. And I don’t expect that we are going to be in fourth place for 20 ISL games,” said Constantine. “We are new, we are fresh, and we are trying very hard to build the foundation of the future.
“One thing is that the team spirit is very good. Everybody looks after each other. I can’t ask for more. What we can do is make fewer mistakes and try and correct the mistakes,” the former India coach added.