Chennai City, East Bengal Eye Title Win on Final Day of I-League
Here’s a look at Chennai City and East Bengal’s chances ahead of their final match of the I-League this season.
The I-League has reached the business end. And yet again, the title race remains wide open on the last day of the league. This has been the trend for the last few seasons which is certainly not bad for a league which might not return next season.
But unlike last year, when four teams were in contention to win the league, this time around, only two teams will be vying to take the top honour on the final day of the league, if we overlook the dead-rubber left to be played between Real Kashmir FC and Minerva Punjab FC.
The two teams in question are East Bengal and Chennai City FC, who will playing their last match on Saturday, 9 March. While East Bengal will face Gokulam Kerala FC, Chennai City FC will take on Minerva Punjab FC. As rule dictates, both matches will begin at 5:00 pm on Saturday and will be played simultaneously.
A win on Saturday might not be enough for the Red and Gold brigade. Chennai need to lose points, which is either loss or draw against Minerva, so that East Bengal can stake claim on the league.
A draw also won’t be enough for the Kolkata giants since it would only help them to draw level with the Chennai outfit, who are one point adrift of East Bengal. Chennai City not only enjoy a head-to-head advantage against East Bengal but also have a better goal difference.
Currently, East Bengal are on 39 points from 19 matches, with 12 wins. The last time East Bengal met Gokulam Kerala, they won 3-1 back home.
That was three months ago. Barring a loss against Chennai, East Bengal since then are on a eight-match winning streak. But on Saturday, the pressure will be on East Bengal and they will look to capitalise on Mexican forward Enrique Esqueda's bright form.
Esqueda has been in astounding form since returning from injury. With 8 goals and 2 assists to his name in the I-League, Esqueda has been the go-to player for East Bengal.
The last time East Bengal won the I-League was sixteen years ago in 2003-04.
Chennai City FC
Unlike East Bengal, the task is cut out for the Chennai club. A win for Chennai City FC will hand them the title regardless of East Bengal's result against Gokulam Kerala. If East Bengal lose their match, then a loss wouldn’t also stop Chennai from becoming the third first-time winner of the I-League in as many years.
Chennai City is right now at the top of the table with 40 points from 19 matches with 12 wins. The head-to-head count against East Bengal and a superior goal difference will play in favour of Chennai.
Meanwhile, it seems fair enough that Chennai City will take on defending champions Minerva Punjab FC for their maiden I-League triumph. As far as this season is concerned, Chennai started on a great note, staying unbeaten for the first 8 matches. Out of their three losses, two have come against debutants Real Kashmir FC and one against Churchill Brothers in their previous match. A win their would have sealed the fate of the league in Chennai’s favour.
Playing their final game of the season, Chennai will miss the services of its star midfielder Nestor Gordillo (8), who is facing a yellow-card suspension. Gordillo is part of attacking Spanish trio, which also includes league joint top scorer Pedro Manzi (20) and Sandro Rodriguez (9). They have already scored 37 of Chennai's 45 goals.
The value of Gordillo to the team is far beyond his 8 goals and 9 assists delivered in the campaign thus far. His vision, trickery and passing ability have rarely been seen in an Indian domestic football season in the recent past.
The last time Chennai played Minerva in this season, it was a goalless draw. On Saturday, if everything goes according to plan, then a draw would be enough to make Chennai City FC write record books.
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