A first time cushioned, volleyed pass from Greg Stewart fell well in the line of Lallianzuala Chhangte’s run. The 25-year-old took a touch to bring the ball under control, drew an FC Goa defender towards him and then nudged it forward to the unmarked Jorge Pereyra Diaz. The Argentine forward had enough time and space to wait for Dheeraj Singh to commit and see how far defender Anwar Ali would move before slotting home.
This was Mumbai City’s third goal in a match that ended 4-1 in favour of them against Goa at the Mumbai Football Arena, in their Indian Super League match on Thursday. In many ways, this team goal – a simple one now by Mumbai City’s standards – was a microcosm of how the team has been playing so far this season.
They’ve scored 27 goals from nine matches – all unbeaten. That’s one more than twice the number of goals scored by the next most prolific teams – Odisha FC, ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters (all three have scored 13 each).
After the match, FC Goa’s coach Carlos Pena would claim: “Against Mumbai, even without making mistakes you can concede goals.”
Diaz’s second goal of the night was exactly that. A move created from an attempted clearance, and executed in five touches of the football.
But importantly for Mumbai, the team is so far unbeaten after nine matches – winning six and drawing three – and sits five points ahead of second placed Hyderabad FC in the league standings.
“It’s very pleasing,” said Des Buckingham, the Mumbai City coach in the post-match conference. “We want us to be a possession, attack-based team. We want to go out and score more goals than the opposition.”
“Yes, there are different goal contributions from players, we’ve got many different ways to score goals. But it’s important also that we don’t concede at the other end. That’s been so far a bit pleasing thing from the change of last year – how much more defensively solid we’ve been in the nine games. And we’ll need to be more if we want to be successful.”
So far this season, the Islanders have conceded 10 goals, only Hyderabad FC (five) and Bengaluru FC (eight) have conceded fewer – both teams though have played fewer matches than Mumbai City. In comparison, last year Mumbai conceded 31 goals in 20 matches to finish fifth.
But Mumbai City have been known more for the goals scored this season, and in particular, the quality and eye-catching appeal with which they have been scored.
Quick build-up play, short and long meaningful passes, all coupled with a keen and accurate eye for goal has made the team rather crowd pleasing. And it’s a style of play that hasn’t happened by accident. Buckingham asserted that this was a desired outcome.
“It’s taken 14 months to get to what you’re seeing now,” he said. “It takes time to get to what you’re seeing now. What people see on the TV, there’s a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes. Learning takes time, but up here there’s been a lot of support in the last 14 months. What we get allows the players to be as good as they can be and allows the staff to live up and have good sessions more often than not. But it’s taken 14 months, and we’re now starting to see the benefit of that.”
“We don’t have to do things every week for the players to remember it. We’ve involved them in it, and they’ve been a part of play and the way we want to play. They’ve remembered it and that’s the learning process. And because of that they’ve been able to make better decisions on the field. I’m convinced that we’re starting to see now, and it’s important to see that in the next 11 matches.”
MCFC's table position last year vs currently
|Season||Position||W-D-L|| Goals for|| Goals against|
Mumbai ended last season with 36 goals, while they’ve already scored 27 before reaching the half-way mark this time.
Yet Buckingham refuses to let thoughts of an unprecedented unbeaten season enter the mind. He was asked a question about it in the post-television interview, and then again in the press conference.
“No, that’s the short answer,” he said.
“It’s pleasing, but for me it’s about how we’re setting our teams up. We’ve gotten to play the way we wanted to play here in Mumbai, we’ve got a way we want to play for the City Football Group, but more so for this team in the Indian football landscape. It’s important we take every single game at a time. East Bengal away, we know they will be challenging.”
In the past two years, the team has broken the shackles of being a largely underachieving club, to become the first to win the ISL title and League Shield in the same year. Earlier this year, they became the first Indian team to win a match at the AFC Champions League, with defender Rahul Bheke becoming the first Indian to score in the elite continental club competition.
Now, Buckingham, in charge of a team that has been playing a rather eye-pleasing brand of football, is hoping his team can ride the waves to bigger fortunes.