Mohun Bagan SG had a very strong start to this year’s pre-season as they emerged as the champions of the 132nd Edition of the Durand Cup, for a record-breaking 17th time, triumphing over their bitter rivals, East Bengal FC, in an iconic Kolkata Derby win. Along with that, Ferrando’s men also qualified to the AFC Cup group stage after knocking out Machhindra FC and Dhaka Abahani comfortably in the Group Stage Qualification playoffs. Things are looking promising for the Bagan’s reserve team as well after they secured a spot in the last six of the Calcutta Football League Premier Division using only junior players.
What’s at stake?
The Indian summer transfer window and Mohun Bagan making massive signings go hand in hand. This year again, Bagan have made a few big signings, some of them record-breaking, cementing their spot as the most valuable squad in the league again and also the hot favorites to win the ISL and the league shield. However, the heavy spending and aggressive transfer strategies will inevitably attract immense pressure for the upcoming season.
Mohun Bagan have been spending aggressively for the last couple of seasons and even though they did end up clinching the ISL title, their performance was far from convincing in the league stage. Being the favorites again this season. the massive media attention and on top of that, having one of the most demanding fan bases in Indian football, it will indeed be challenging for Ferrando’s men to deal with the pressure in the upcoming ISL season.
Even though Bagan had a strong end to the league campaign, they still had a few problems, especially going forward. The Mariners scored 24 goals last season, the 4th lowest in the league and just 4 goals more than the struggling North East United. Out of the 24 goals scored, Dimitri Petratos scored an impressive 12 goals and registered 7 assists, having a direct involvement in almost 80% of their goals. That incredible stat shows the under-performance of the other forwards in the team and their over-reliance on Petratos, who is not even a proper centre-forward.
With the forward line being the main area demanding improvement, Mohun Bagan made a couple of statement signings in the form of Jason Cummings and Armando Sadiku. Cummings is one of the biggest signings in the recent history of Indian Football. The Australian world-cupper was directly involved in 28 goals last season in the A-League which is more than what the entire Mohun Bagan team managed to score last season. Cummings has already become a fan-favorite after finding the back of the net multiple times for Bagan in the AFC Cup Qualifiers and Durand Cup.
The 27-year-old striker is likely to be a massive threat alongside Albanian international forward Sadiku, who rose to popularity after he scored Albania’s first-ever goal at a UEFA European Championship in 2016. Last season, Sadiku’s record of eight goals in 31 appearances for Cartegena in the Spanish Segunda Division may not seem to be that great on paper along with his age of 32, but he is still very good for the ISL and we can expect him to be a big problem for ISL defenders.
Mohun Bagan’s midfield last season looked promising on paper but after releasing the ever-reliable Carl McHugh and an injured Joni Kauko, the lack of quality Indian midfielders was clear to see. To say that Mohun Bagan have successfully solved their midfield conundrums would be an understatement after they announced the high-profile and record-breaking signings of Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad from Chennaiyin and Kerala Blasters respectively.
Thapa is one of the most hardworking and versatile midfielders in the league and with his technique and intensity, he will be able to fill many positions along with adding to the missing quality in midfield, making him an instant starter for the Mariners. Sahal on the other hand is the perfect player to play alongside Thapa. One of the most technically gifted players in the country, he can play as a number 8 or a number 10, providing the much-needed creativity from the midfield. Having released Gallego and selling Puitea to Odisha FC, Sahal and Thapa will be expected to be pivotal for Mohun Bagan’s midfield along with Hugo Boumous.
Statistically, Bagan had the second-best defence in the league last season, only conceding 17 goals, second only to Hyderabad FC. The immense joy of getting Sahal’s transfer over the line was dampened as the Mariners lost their captain, leader, and legend, Pritam Kotal, who joined the Blasters in a swap deal. Kotal’s leadership and presence in the squad is almost impossible to replace but the signing of Anwar Ali is more than making up for the other aspects.
Anwar, at the age of 22, is already the best ball-playing centre-back in the country, suiting Juan Ferrando’s style. His stunning performances for FC Goa last season along with his commanding show for the national team recently make him a brilliant signing as well. Anwar appeared in 20 games for FC Goa last season, playing a staggering 99.8 % of the total minutes available. Having scored many crucial goals, Ali was pivotal in Bagan’s Durand Cup triumph and fans will expect him to be the next leader of the defence and dominate for a very long time, just like Kotal.
In addition to him, Hector Yuste’s signing has also bolstered the defence, which lacked bodies after releasing Florentin Pogba and Damjanovic. The Spanish defender has experience playing in the UEFA Europa and Conference League in recent years, providing much-needed experience and quality.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Overall, it is hard to pinpoint strengths for Mohun Bagan as they look strong in every department after the new additions. However, they potentially have the most dangerous attack in the league with individual match-winners in the form of Cummings, Petratos, and Sadiku managing a total of 40 Goals and 14 assists last season between just the three of them.
Regarding weaknesses, Pritam Kotal’s loss will still hurt Mohun Bagan SG even after the signing of Anwar Ali. Kotal’s presence in the dressing room, leadership qualities and the potential depth he would have provided for the team in the defence will be certainly missed. With Sumit Rathi being the only recognizable Indian centre-back in the squad except Bose who is not a natural centre-back, an injury to Anwar can disturb the overall balance of the squad.
Predicted Starting 11:
One youngster to watch out for:
Suhail Bhatt is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting young forwards in the country right now. His impressive displays in the Calcutta Football League, along with a standout performance for Bagan’s first team against Bangladesh Army FT, have garnered a lot of attention among the Bagan faithful. His excellent form was duly rewarded when he earned a spot in the Indian U23 team for the Asian Cup Qualifiers. Despite facing stiff competition from players like Jason Cummings, Sadiku, and Kiyan Nassiri, Suhail has already proven that he is ready to shine at the highest level. If Ferrando trusts Bhatt, the youngster will not fail to deliver.
Bagan, on paper, are definitely the team to beat this season. The players, despite not having a proper pre-season for the Durand Cup, still managed to win the tournament, which will give them a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the ISL and AFC Cup group stage.
Their performance in the Durand Cup was a testament to the winning mentality of the team as they carved out wins from difficult situations. They are one of the top contenders to win the league and it will not be a surprise at all if they go deep in the AFC Cup. At the same time, not winning the league with this squad will be a massive disappointment to the Bagan faithful.
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