Imphal : Title holders Minerva Punjab will find the going tough as Manipur based club-side Neroca FC go into their 12th I-League clash on Sunday as favourites, having registered wins in each of their last three games.
Minerva on the other hand suffered a loss at home against Mohun Bagan in their previous game and drew goalless against Chennai City before that, their goal scoring woes refusing to go away.
Neroca are at third spot in the league standings with 14 points from eight games and have won four times so far. Minerva has played a game more and have a win less, placing them a lowly seventh with 12 points.
While Neroca look a rejuvenated side since the return from injury of Japanese talisman Katsumi Yusa, Minerva's Irish coach Paul Munster looks yet to settle on the right combination for the season.
The home team began their campaign in an uninspiring fashion picking up just two points from their first three games but have since won four of the next five. A win on Sunday will catapult them onto second.
Neroca's spanish coach Manuel Fraile has made some key decisions along the way, two of them being ensuring that the experienced Singham Subhash Singh and Lalit Thapa are back in the active mix and with the inspirational Yusa coming back, Nigerian striker Felix Chidi also seems to have got back his goal scoring touch.
"We must keep the momentum. We need to be steady too. Support of the fans, journalists have also played an important role. The important aspect is to look at the opponent also. From January, we will be playing more away matches," Fraile said.
"We will be playing with a tough team who are the champions. We are in a very good position now," he added.
Minerva have played about 24 players in their nine games so far and are yet to zero in on an ideal attacking partnership for William Opoku.
The Ghanaian has had to partner the likes of Manandeep, Sabeeth, Donatus Edafe, Alexandre Kouassi, Yu Kuboki, Nongdamba Naorem, Dilliram Sanyasi and Makan Winkle Chothe at various stages of the campaign unlike last year when Chencho and Bali Gagandeep were mostly by his side.
With six goals scored so far and two of those six coming in a single match off the head of centre-back Lancine Toure, it is clear that none of those attacking combinations has worked for Munster so far.
There is a lot at stake in the Imphal game on Sunday. The Champions would have completed their first round of matches by the end of it and a win would mean they would look forward to the second round with renewed confidence whereas a loss could derail the campaign seriously.
For the hosts as well, a win could take them to clear second position and open up a gap with the chasing pack.