Kolkata [India], Mar.31 (ANI): When Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC renew acquaintances in their third back-to-back meeting, both sides will look to shrug off the fatigue of their national team players and outwit one another in a Hero I-League encounter at the Rabindra Sarovar Stadium on Saturday.
Bengaluru, defending champions of the I-League, got the better of Bagan 2-1 in their Group E AFC Cup tie three days after both outfits played out a goalless stalemate in the I-League.
During the league break, both sides had their first team players representing India in a FIFA friendly against Cambodia and AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 qualifier tie against Myanmar.
Bengaluru had seven including skipper Sunil Chhetri while Bagan had three starting players - Jeje Lalpekhlua, Anas Edathodika and Pritam Kotal.
Bagan are still very much in the title race, placed third with 23 points from 12 matches. Aizawl are top of the table having 30 from 14 outings while East Bengal are second having 27 in their kitty from 14 games.
Bengaluru, meanwhile, have fallen by the wayside this time, languishing fifth in the table with just 18 points from 13 matches.
Albert Roca's side were held by the newbies Chennai city FC before Bagan in their last two league clashes. Six draws and just four wins paint a sorry picture of a side that won two league crowns and one Federation Cup title in their first three years.
Roca took the Blues to the AFC Cup final last year and this time also they seem to be focused on continental success.
"It's gonna be difficult tomorrow. They have to get three points and want to finish top. We are expecting a difficult game but we are current champions. We will try to do our best for our supporters and for the team. We have a lot of respect for Mohun Bagan and their history. But we have to be competitive. We will do our best," Roca told reporters on the eve of the tie.
Roca added that Bagan have a slight upper hand as they had just three players returning from national duty while Bengaluru have seven. The Spaniard also hinted at their AFC Cup tie against Maldives' Maziya Sports & Recreation which is of more importance to them.
"It is a little advantage to them. In four days we have an important game in Maldives. We will have to manage the situation and play with a team tomorrow that can win."
Roca might rest a few India players tomorrow while Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen said star Haitian Sony Norde's involvement in the match is in some doubt.
"I have not decided on that. He will in the 18-man squad," Sen said.
It is one of the crucial matches for us. Bengaluru FC are one of the strongest sides in the league. It's a tough match for us," the former United SC coach added.
Full-back Rino Anto will not be available for the visitors on Saturday while Pronay Halder, Kean Lewis and U-22 player Rainier Fernandes are still recovering from their injuries for Bagan.(ANI)