Odisha FC coach Josep Gombau was under a lot of pressure going into the game against Mumbai City FC. Under his management, the team had won just four out of twenty matches. The first two games in the new Indian Super League season had also ended in defeats.
Yet, the Spaniard had remained defiant about his football philosophy, his system and his coaching methods.
“The football we play is the style we want to play. It’s the way I learnt to play football and it’s the way I teach football. So, we are not going to change the way we play. We believe we can get positive results playing this way,” Gombau had said ahead of the game.
On Thursday, using the same 4-2-1-3 formation, Odisha beat Mumbai City FC, who were semi-finalists last season and had four points from two away games this season.
Mumbai were yet to concede a single goal this campaign until Odisha fired four past the home side to hand them their first defeat while positing their maiden victory of the season.
The only real surprise in the Odisha line-up on Thursday was that of Bikramjit Singh replacing Vinit Rai, but the change had to be reversed before the game as the midfielder suffered an injury during the warm-up.
Mumbai too lost central midfielder Rowllin Borges just before kick-off, but Mumbai found coping with the last-minute injury a lot tougher.
Already missing quite a few first-team players, Costa had to pull back Mohamed Larbi from the frontline into the midfield with Serge Kevyn taking his place in attack.
The patched-up side, with several players playing in unfamiliar positions, failed to perform as a unit. The result of the chaos was a non-uniform press that left gaps between the lines for Odisha to exploit which is exactly what the visitors did.
The key man for the visitors was Spaniard Xisco Hernandez who wreaked havoc between Mumbai’s midfield and defensive lines. The hosts struggled to pick out the former Bengaluru FC midfielder in those pockets of spaces in front of their back four, thus allowing him to dictate terms.
Odisha’s flying wingers
The other aspect of Odisha’s play that stood out was the tactical discipline of their wingers. Nandakumar Sekar and Jerry Mawhmingthanga resisted the temptation to drift inside and stayed as wide as possible for most parts of the game.
“Our plan for this game was to make the field as big as possible. That was something we wanted to do to help our style of play,” Gombau commented after the game.
Mumbai held a very narrow defensive shape and ended up giving too much space to the Odisha wingers who made the most of freedom.
The dismal display of Mumbai City FC’s full-backs also aided Odisha’s cause.
Three out of Odisha’s four goals were made by their wingers. Jerry provided crosses for both of Aridane Santana’s goals while it was Nadhakumar’s shot that fell into Jerry’s path after rebounding off the crossbar for the third goal.
“I like to play with open wingers, it’s something I have always done, and I like,” Gombau said after the game.
“Coming from Barcelona, it’s something very usual to play this 4-3-3. And we are playing 4-2-1-3 because we have these open wingers. I think they are the players who fit very well in this football we want to play, because they are quick, and they feel comfortable playing outside. I think they will grow. They are very young, and they are doing well. I am so happy with them,” he added.
While Odisha played their system well, the same can’t be said of Mumbai City.
This is not my team: Jorge Costa
Mumbai City were nowhere near as intense as in the first two games. To add to their woes, the back four made a lot of mistakes which led to them conceding four goals.
Subhashish Bose, who was at fault for all of Odisha’s goals in the first half, was taken off by coach Jorge Costa at half-time.
“The problem is that after two games, we felt that our job was done and in football when you are not prepared for the things you must do, you cannot expect more than what we did in the first 45 minutes. We conceded some silly goals. This is not my team. This is not what I want. This is for sure not what (the players) want. But as I said, today we didn’t deserve anything else but a loss,” the Portuguese coach said after the defeat.
Despite the loss, Mumbai remain a point above their conquerors on Thursday. The win doesn’t guarantee Odisha anything yet, while the loss is not the end of the world for Mumbai.
Costa’s Mumbai City FC hosts FC Goa in their next game while Odisha travel to face Kerala Blasters. These games would reveal if Thursday’s result was a one-off or the start of a recurring pattern.