Mumbai City FC are marginal favourites going into their Indian Super League opener against Jamshedpur with the visitors missing three of their key players.
Australia veteran Tim Cahill – arguably the biggest name to enter the league this season – is ruled out with a suspension. The 38-year-old played in English championship side Milwall FC last season.
First choice goalkeeper and India veteran Subrata Paul is also completing a three-match ban following Jamshedpur’s infamous match with FC Goa, where both teams finished with only eight players. Defender Dhanachandra Sigh, meanwhile, is recovering from an injury.
New Jamshedpur coach Cesar Ferrando remained defiant. “I have 22 players in my team and all of them are ready to play. I don’t want to make an excuse” he said. “We did our pre-season in Spain and I am very happy. I hope we can be fit throughout the season.”
During the pre-season, players from the famous Tata football academy also played with the first team, and Ferrando was was impressed with what he saw. “They are confident, they sacrifice and can score a lot of goals.”
Mumbai coach Jorge Costa, also getting his first taste of Indian football, remained pragmatic. “I am not the kind of coach who cannot play without information,” admitting that he had little information on Jamshedpur despite the visitors missing three key players.
Substance over style
Ferrando, whose CV boasts of coaching a number of La Liga teams, including heavyweights Atletico Madrid insisted that there was no substitute to winning games. Much of the pre-season has been spent on pundits and the press pondering of the style of play that will be implemented by teams, given the generous Spanish influence in the league.
“I don’t have any style I just want to win matches. First, you have to defend well and then go for attack. If you see FC Barcelona, they have a good attack as well as a good defence. We have to play short and long passes. My style is to win matches,” Ferrando said.
The 59-year-old had a point. English champions Manchester City, apart from scoring the most goals in their division last season, also conceded the least. There have also been murmurs of Costa, FC Porto’s Champions League winning captain under current Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, will grind out results like the latter.
Results in the pre-season, though, points at Mumbai putting goalscoring – their Achilles Heel last season – over discipline at the back. In Thailand, they scored 14 but conceded seven in four games. “New players have come in. Our first target is to qualify for the playoffs and finish in the top 4. After that, we will see,” Costa said. “We are scoring a lot of goals. This made me happy. Let us see what we can do in our first game tomorrow but I hope to be happy with our performance.”
There is no doubting Jamshedpur’s spirit, which was the key during their good run last season, only narrowly missing out on a last-four spot. As for Mumbai, it’s a fresh start after finishing a lowly seventh.