Former champions Mohun Bagan will start as hot favourites against Churchill Brothers FC Goa in their Hero I-League opener at the Barasat Stadium under floodlights on Sunday.
Bagan, who were supposed to play at the Ravindra Sarovar Stadium, had to change their venue at the last moment due to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) putting a bar on hosting matches under floodlights due to environmental issues.
But coach Sanjoy Sen said playing on artificial turf won’t pose a problem.
“I cannot do anything about the venue change. But I don’t think it will be much of a problem. Our players have played on synthetic turf before,” coach Sen told reporters ate the pre-match media briefing on Saturday.
Sen added that the way his team leaked goals last season was not the best and he would like to put a lid on that this time.
“The way conceded last season was not good. I would like to change that this time,” the former United SC coach said.
Bagan won the I-League two seasons back under Sen and finished runner-up last term.
Their team has almost the same look with Haitian forward Sony Norde, Japanese playmaker Yusa Katsumi and Scottish marksman Darryl Duffy among the foreigners retained.
Equatoguinean footballer Eduardo Ferreira, who played for Indian Super League side FC Pune City, is the only addition.
Among the Indian spread, All India Football Federation (AIFF) player of the year Jeje Lalpekhlua is the star man along with the likes of Pronay Halder, Pritam Kotal, and Kean Lewis forming the core of the players who were there last season.
Add to that Sehnaj Singh, Subhashish Bose, and Anas Edathodika, the Kolkata giants are one of three firm favourites to win the title this season. East Bengal and reigning champions Bengaluru FC are the other two tipped to clinch the crown.
Churchill, on the other hand, are coming into the tie still grappling with issues like no foreign player onboard and a hurriedly assembled squad.
“We got the squad by 2nd of January and reached here on 6th,” informed first team coach Alfred Fernandez who has AFC A license.
“We got very little time to prepare and are without any foreigners. We hope to get our overseas players by the third week of this month,” he said.
Anthony Wolfe, one of their recruits, is still to get an international transfer certificate.
“We are here to bag three points. When we are playing we will take the fight to the opposition, captain Keenan Almeida said.
Bagan are likely to play Katsumi just behind striker Balwant Singh or Darryl Duffy with Jeje starting from the bench owing to him arriving late and still taking a time to get going.
Newcomer Anas will partner Kingshuk Debnath in defence while Sehnaj — who played for rivals East Bengal last season — settling down in the middle with Souvik Chakraborty.
Sony Norde will be missed as the star player who was part of Haiti’s Copa America team last year is still to arrive.