The Mariners came into the 2018-10 season hoping to win their first title in 4 years, in what could be their last season in the Hero I-League. Long time number 2, Sankarlal Chakraborty (or "The Game-maker" as Renedy Singh likes to call him) was finally given the top job and got off to a shaky start. Bagan dropped 4 points in their first two games after conceding late goals, before winning against the Indian Arrows and Real Kashmir. However, they lost Sony Norde to injury in the process and their form tanked - 1 point from the next 3, culminating in an embarrassing derby day defeat to rivals, East Bengal.
Up until the derby, Bagan played a 4-4-2 formation with a settled back 4 of Abhishek Ambekar, Kingsley Eze, Kim Kima and Arijit Bagui with Sankar Roy the first choice 'keeper. In front of them was the double pivot of Yuta Kinowaki and Sourav Das with Dipanda Dicka and the Henry Kisseka leading the line. There was a lot of chopping and changing across the midfield, the primary reason behind their poor form, and they only seemed confident when Sony Norde started on the left with an Indian, usually Pintu Mahata, on the right.
Omar El-Housseiny was mainly used as a replacement for Norde on the left wing, a position that he is not necessarily suited to but also featured in central midfield. The Egyptian is talented but has neither the pace nor mentality to function as a wide forward.
Chakraborty's indecisiveness with how to structure his midfield led to a the team being vulnerable on the counter. The Kolkatta giants struggled to maintain vertical compactness- Das and Kinowaki would often find themselves isolated as the wingers stayed high, and the fullbacks bombed on simultaneously. The 3-0 defeat to Churchill Brothers was a great example of this - Dawda Ceesay, Israil Gurung and co managed to find a lot of space in between the lines.
Mohun Bagan initially attempted to play short passes out from the back, but when Kinowaki or Das dropped to receive the ball, the gap between midfield and the forwards would be so large that they had no choice but to go long. Up front, Sony Norde always looked like the most threatening player on the pitch. The Haitian veteran looked like he would score every time he touched the ball. However, he has been riddled with injury troubles.
Luckily, for The Mariners, their lack of a #10 or attacking outlet didn't hurt them too much as Henry Kisseka functioned as an exceptional link up player. With Dicka staying central and between the width of the goal, Kisseka took the creative responsibility upon himself. Only Arijit Bagui was involved in creating more chances than him and nobody in the squad has as many assists as the man from Uganda. All this aside from scoring 3 goals, to tie with Dicka as the club's current top scorer.
Despite Kisseka's best efforts, their overall Chance Creation statistics are mid-table. After the derby loss, Bagan were in a bad place and there were one or two whispers that the coach would lose his job with a negative performance against Minerva Punjab. But, that's when it all changed. In the subsequent games, most of the problems I mentioned above was addressed by the coaching staff, leading to two commanding wins (against soft opponents, admittedly).
Chakraborty brought El-Housseiny back into the squad and moved to a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 with the Moroccan pulling the strings in the #10 role
Wingers have been asked to track opponent fullbacks and provide midfield support during open play
Kisseka moved from a secondary striker to the left wing. Playing in the "Sony Norde" role, he has scored 2 goals in as many games
Yuta Kinowaki dropped deep to be the main instigator at the back but also worked as a shield for the centre halves. His injury is a huge blow to the side
The staggering of their midfield line and the introduction of El-Housseiny's guile behind the forwards means that Bagan now have a less risky approach to chance creation. In attack, Bagan have created the 3rd most expected goals but have scored just 1.7 goals over expected. They are also mid-table when it comes to Expected Goals created per match, Chances Created per match and Average Chance Quality. While they aren't necessarily doing badly, a top team would want to over-perform on at least a few metrics. Plenty of room for improvement.
The defensive numbers could definitely do with some improvement. 10 goals conceded from 9.2 Expected Goals conceded, once again not good enough for a big team. Though they have the third lowest xG conceded per game total, both Minerva and Real Kashmir are defending much better. It is still a good sign when you also see that only Real Kashmir concede fewer chances per game. Bagan do give away some good chances on the counter, but with the new system, we should see a reduction in this metric for the rest of the season. Overall, the defence looks to be okay.
There were more problems for Mohun Bagan as they lost their first choice midfield pair of Kinowaki and Das in their last game against Shillong Lajong. Chakraborty will, once again, be forced to tinker with his midfield - Darren Caldeira and Mehtab Hossain are expected to start in the middle of the park. There is also intense competition over the Right Wing spot with Azhar and Faiaz currently battling it out. Losing what little cohesion they had could make their next game against NEROCA, one of the biggest games of the season for the club.
The Mariners must also be disappointed that we're nearly halfway through the season and they haven't beaten a decent team yet. They have not necessarily done badly, but it comes down to the fact that Mohun Bagan must be aiming to exceed and not just match expectations.
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