Mohun Bagan have their work cut out in the AFC Cup

The real test begins now

Mohun Bagan eventually won their two preliminary ties on aggregate - 4-2 against Colombo FC and 5-2 against Club Valencia, but their performances in both games was short of what coach Sanjoy Sen would have expected from his team. Credit must be given to Sen for effective squad rotation, which saw a number of key players sitting out at least one of the matches.

The weakest link in both ties was defence. The understanding between Anas Edathodika and Eduardo Ferreira as centre-backs leaves a lot to be desired. They will need to shore up the back line against teams which are less prone to mistakes, especially in the final third.

Home matches will make the difference

Bagan have been placed in the same group as three other south Asian clubs, including the reigning I-League champions Bengaluru FC. The other teams in their group are Dhaka Abahani from Bangladesh and Maziya from Maldives.

While Abahani did the league and cup double in Bangladesh for the 2016 season, Maziya are the reigning league champions in their country. Add to that a spicy rivalry cultivated over three seasons with Bengaluru, and Mohun Bagan will know that they are placed in a tight group, where taking advantage of home conditions will be crucial.

Bagan start with an away match on March 14 in Bengaluru, but following that they will need to make the most of successive home games against Dhaka Abahani and Maziya in April. If they can keep themselves in the top two of the points table midway through the group stages, it will enhance their chances of making the knockout stages.

I-league will see the team stretched

Mohun Bagan are second in the I-League, and in fact are the only team unbeaten a little after halfway through the season. They have played two matches fewer than most of the other sides, owing to their AFC commitments. The added workload of playing AFC Cup will mean Sanjoy Sen must manage his team compositions smartly.

With Bengaluru FC drifting away out of the I-League title contention, they might concentrate more on the AFC Cup this year. In addition, Bengaluru are the runners-up from the previous year, and that will work as added motivation to start strongly in the continental competition. It will be up to Bagan to respond in a similar manner.

Mohun Bagan's group fixtures

March 14: v Bengaluru FC (India) - away

April 4: v Dhaka Abahani (Bangladesh) - home

April 18: v Maziya Sports & Recreation Club (Maldives) - home

May 3: v Maziya Sports & Recreation Club (Maldives) - away

May 17: v Bengaluru FC (India) - home

May 31: v Dhaka Abahani (Bangladesh) - away