With former India coach Stephen Constantine at the helm of affairs, East Bengal will look to begin their campaign on a positive note when they take on last season’s runners-up Kerala Blasters in the opening match of the Indian Super League .
Normalcy returns to the ISL after two closed-door seasons in Goa because of the COVID-19 pandemic as the league will be played once again in its usual home-away format with fans back in the stadiums. There’s still no promotion and relegation yet but the ninth season will see the top two from the league making the semi-finals directly, while the remaining two spots will be determined from a single-leg playoff among the third to sixth placed teams.
On paper, the three-time finalists and the home side, despite losing their key attackers Alvaro Vasquez (FC Goa) and Jorge Pereyra Diaz (Mumbai City), look much stronger than the century-old club from Kolkata who are still making baby steps in the franchise-based league.
The Ivan Vukomanovic-coached yellow brigade will hope that the new recruits in Giannou, Diamantakos and Victor Mongil are up to the task. Striking the balance would be their main objective.
All eyes would be on local boy and India player Sahal Abdul Samad as he would look to press for early strikes. Under a new sponsor, East Bengal will hope that they overcome the disappointment of the last two seasons when they finished ninth and at bottom (11th).
“It will be a real test for us. But then this is what we all want to be tested every week, every game. We are slowly getting there. One thing I will promise. We will give our fans a good account of ourselves,” new East Bengal head coach Constantine said. Constantine has brought in some known faces of Indian football in Cleiton Silva and VP Suhair, who will be in charge of East Bengal attack and link-up play. Silva had two fruitful seasons with Bengaluru FC. With a penchant for goals, he will be their key man up front.
Ivan Gonzalez and Alex Lima will further strengthen the spine in the team. Charalambos Kyriakou is someone who can play multiple positions in the backline which is always a bonus.
Arindam Bhattacharja, Hira Mondal and Lalrinliana Hnamte are among the few notable Indian players who have made departures, but there is enough quality and depth when it comes to the Indian contingent this season. Kamaljit Singh showed his solidity at the goal in the recent Durand Cup, while the likes of Jerry Lalrinzuala, Mohamad Rakip, Sarthak Golui, Pritam Singh and Lalchungnunga will add solidity at the back.
The key thing is the team has managed to train together for a long time unlike the last two appearances as they would look to give a good account of themselves under Constantine’s defensive organization. Match Starts: 7.30pm