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Bagan not taking Saunders for granted
- AFC Champions League l Visitors wary of Bhaichung, not Barreto

Calcutta, Sept. 21: Caution orders that you never overstep your confidence level. Confidence, however, has been known to often suffer from hyperactivity. The dilemma in demand can be dangerous if the third factor in the system — strategy — is weak.

Cautious confidence is what can reasonably describe Mohun Bagan’s attitude on the eve of their AFC Champions League first-round second-leg match versus Saunders SC of Sri Lanka at home Sunday.

Coach Subrata Bhattacharya says he will not be keeping the first-leg 2-0 victory in his head while taking the field with his wards, and that’s a good sign. “The victory over East Bengal has surely added to the confidence level of my boys,” said Bhattacharya Saturday, “but it will not be right to expect this brush-off on the team vis-à-vis Saunders.”

Why this trepidation' “I do agree, that with foreigners George Ekeh and Jose Ramierz Barreto and with Bhaichung Bhutia in our ranks we do look heavier than our rivals, and I do agree that we do have a 2-0 away lead advantage,” he said. “But I am sure they have seen us in the first leg and studied us quite like we did. They, too have strategy in mind.”

Good argument, except that the sheer brusque of brawn often escapes expressions deadpan and comments guarded. “Today I had my second stringers play the ‘seniors’, and the way they played makes me feel good that I do have a solid bench strength now. The victory over East Bengal has opened up their minds. They can think bigger now.” That comment, though, failed to take care of the fact that the Mohun Bagan defence has often shown up a shade darker than the rest.

Slowly, that question is answered. “We will play in parts of defence and attack. I am going out for a win, not even for a draw, but I am not taking undue risks. I will have a deep defence and probably a sweeper, and then there could be a withdrawn medio providing that extra cover.” Basudeb Mondal will have a particularly large role to play tomorrow, revealed the coach.

From what Bhattacharya says he saw in Colombo, “they play in pretty much our style,” hence never too difficult to read. “We took about half an hour at the most to get to know their style, and tomorrow we will take some initial moments before we move in.” There could be a misread in that. Mohun Bagan could go out for the attack sooner rather than later. In a crux match, a lead makes a lot of difference.

“Barreto is the playmaker. I am not looking for him to score, really, I want him to scheme. Ekeh could be up and down the frontline providing support,” Bhattacharya said. That means it will be upto Bhaichung, mostly, to hit the target.

The problem is that the Bhaichung-Barreto combination has yet to work out to the coach’s satisfaction. The fact that Bhaichung went back again to the national camp after the first leg has robbed the coach of putting the duo through more rounds.

“You see, Saunders play fast, and they do have a few set-pieces,” he said. “They need to be cut off in tackle, they need to be controlled. Three players of Saunders had caught my eye in Colombo — Siyaguna Maduranga Weerasinge, Mudunkotuwa Perera and Imran Mohammed.”

Not that there will be markers on them…

Saunders coach P.D. Sirisena finds a similarity with Bhattacharya. “I, too, have been a one-club man. I have played for Saunders for 16 years in the Sixties,” said the 62-year-old. “And I have never switched clubs and hence my coaching is also with this club.” He said he did get a chance to play for East Bengal, in 1963, but the Lanka federation did not provide the necessary release.

He said when his club had become champions last year, the club had the services of a Korean and a Nigerian. “They are not with us this year, hence, that is a disadvantage…”

That does not mean any great fall in standard. Seven in the first team of this club are national team players. The fact that veteran medio Jagat Roshane could not come (hamstring pull) is a drawback, not something his team can’t get over.

His forwards aren’t that experienced (the average age of the team is 21), but they are no pushovers. “We will go all out to win,” said the coach. “That is, obviously, a must for us, and we will mix and match players and strategy to achieve that.” The team usually plays in the 4-3-3 formation, switching to 4-4-2 when needed or variations thereby.

The interesting observation of Sirisena was that he does not really consider Barreto to be a threat. Bhaichung is more on his mind. He is also aware that his team has a fast midfield and he wishes to use this to advantage. The problem could be the turf, “if it rains. That could be a big problem.”

Going by how the skies have behaved over the last few days, a shower or more is expected. So much the better for Mohun Bagan.

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