Kolkata: Notwithstanding their last season`s success against bitter foes Mohun Bagan, a depleted East Bengal will have a tough task this time around when the two teams clash for the first time, in a round six I-League fixture on Saturday.
It`s a triple blow for last year`s runners-up East Bengal who will be without their inspirational playmaker Mehtab Hussain, Australian forward Tolgay Ozbey and Khangtang Paite.
In red hot form with four wins from five matches, Mohun Bagan have in their ranks the season`s top signing Odafa Okolie and India`s star forward Sunil Chhetri.
That East Bengal had an all-win record against Mohun Bagan last season is likely to matter little.
It remains to be seen how Trevor James Morgan goes about it in the season`s first derby with about 100,000 crowd expected to turn up at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan.
Mohun Bagan too appears to miss India stopper Anwar Ali but the signing of Australian central defender Daniel Zeleny has brought smiles to the fans.
It will be an exciting contest on the cards with Zeleny vs East Bengal`s Scottish midfielder Alan Gow who has been in fine form with his setpiece movements.
In the absence of Hussain, Gow will be the key for East Bengal and they have two more foreigners in Orji Penn and Uga Okpara.
Hussain is yet to recover from a groin injury that got aggravated in his two-minute forced appearance during the Federation Cup final.
Hussain this time does not want to take any chances.
"Playing in the Federation Cup final was a mistake and I don`t want to repeat it. I`m not fully fit and I don`t want to take any risk," Hussain said.
East Bengal`s leading striker in the last season, Ozbey, on the other hand, has been suspended for the match.
But East Bengal coach Morgan put up a brave face saying they were ready for the challenge.
"There`s no point crying over what we have and what we don`t have. My team is ready to face any challenge," Morgan said.
Beside the goalmaking skills of Odafa, Mohun Bagan will also have the experience of Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto and India international Syed Rahim Nabi.
Having led India to a 3-2 win over Malaysia, Nabi, a former East Bengal captain, will for the first time play against his former side.
"Being a professional, I am fully committed to Mohun Bagan now and eager to give my best shot," he said.
Mohun Bagan coach Prasanta Banerjee said, "We are currently in the 2nd spot of the I-League so there is no pressure on us and nothing to worry about. We have been winning the last few matches.”
"I think we will have to play a more constructive game, working the ball upwards with many passes starting right from the defenders." he said.