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The I-League's four-horse race

Indian I-League
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Mohun BaganMohun Bagan
East BengalEast Bengal
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East BengalEast Bengal
Aizawl FCAizawl FC
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Sen: East Bengal re-ignite title hopes with positivity and variety

Dudu timed his runs into the opposition to perfection to score four goals.
Dudu timed his runs into the opposition to perfection to score four goals.

East Bengal kept their I-League title hopes alive with a 7-1 win over Chennai City FC in Kolkata on Saturday, with Dudu Omegbemi leading the way with four goals.

The victory, the margin of which was the highest for any team this season, brought East Bengal level on points with Minerva Punjab, who have played one game less. East Bengal can now take the title chase to the last day provided they beat Shillong Lajong away on March 5, even if Minerva win both of their next two matches leading up to the final round on March 8.

Here's what East Bengal got right to win the highest-scoring match of this season:

Team selection

In past matches, coach Khalid Jamil has been guilty of dithering with his best starting XI, but with the title hopes hanging in balance, he put out an attack-minded lineup. Barring defender Eduardo Ferreira, all other foreigners were primed for attack. Dudu led the way with his four goals, but Ansumana Kromah, Mahmoud Al Amnah and Katsumi Yusa all worked hard to keep Chennai pinned on the backfoot through the match.

Katsumi Yusa was one of East Bengal's four foreign players who did their part in keeping Chennai on the backfoot through the match.
Katsumi Yusa was one of East Bengal's four foreign players who did their part in keeping Chennai on the backfoot through the match.

East Bengal have also copped a lot of criticism for flouting the U-22 rule, as many teams in the I-League tend to do, by starting with Indian U-22 players but taking them off inside the first half-hour or so. The player to suffer the most on this account has been winger Yami Longvah, but on Saturday, East Bengal started with Mehtab Singh at right-back and he did a good job of not just defending but also contributing to attacks with his overlaps.

Greater variety in attack

In some matches, East Bengal have been a bit one-dimensional when it comes to attacking patterns. They often send the ball up front and look for the centre-forwards to create openings and bring other players into play.

Saturday's performance was characterised by good pressure, selflessness on the ball, and good anticipation skills from the frontmen. Amnah played a big role in attack, with Katsumi dropping deep to add an extra player in midfield, and Dudu timed his runs at the opposition to perfection. East Bengal's third goal was the perfect reflection of this co-ordination, with Amnah playing the ball into the edge of the penalty box, where Chennai goalkeeper Kabir Thaufiq had come off his line and hesitated for a split-second with centre-back Veniamin Shumeyko ahead of him. That was enough for Dudu to swoop in, steal the ball and slot it home after rounding off Kabir.

No respite for opposition

Mahmoud Al Amnah scores East Bengal's first goal.
Mahmoud Al Amnah scores East Bengal's first goal.

East Bengal have also been guilty of allowing their opposition back in after dominating the game and even leading in some matches. They began the season with a 2-2 draw against Aizawl FC at home where they led 2-0, and lost their last match 2-1 after leading Gokulam Kerala 1-0 early.

They set this right on Saturday with their positive intent. Dudu had just completed his hat-trick close to the hour-mark, when Chennai pulled one back with a scorching first-timer by substitute Mashoor. In response, East Bengal created an opening of their own, with Kromah extracting a save from Kabir. From the corner that followed, Dudu stabbed the ball home.

Dudu, a primarily left-footed player, scored just that one goal with his left foot on the day. On every other occasion, he put his chances away at the earliest possible, and kept his shots on target. In doing so, he showed his teammates the way East Bengal need to keep this title race alive till the last day -- take their chances and don't die wondering.

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