One team that Mumbai City FC certainly doesn’t enjoy playing against is FC Goa. Be it home or away. The statistics tell you that.

They have conceded more than five goals only on five occasions in Indian Super League history and three of them have come against the Gaurs. In the past 12 meetings between the two sides, they have shipped 24 goals – the highest against any opponent.

Going by their recent results, there is nothing much to separate both the teams. Mumbai City, placed fifth, are one spot behind Goa in the table despite coming off a demoralising 2-4 defeat to Odisha FC at home.

Although FC Goa are favourites heading into Thursday’s match at the Mumbai Football Arena, Mumbai City coach Jorge Costa will have a nagging sense of deja vu.

During the initial phase of the 2018-’19 season, it was only after they suffered a 0-5 away loss to FC Goa that they went on a unprecedented nine-match unbeaten run and reached the playoffs.

This season they meet early again and one will wonder whether Thursday’s game, whatever the result may be, can spur Mumbai City to something good like last year?

On paper, a lot has changed for both the teams since last year.

FC Goa retained a majority of their players alongside completing only two signings during the summer transfer window while Mumbai City reshuffled their squad, strengthening all areas by signing as much as 13 players. Lucian Goian, Arnold Issoko and Rafael Bastos were among the ones who departed – the trio playing a vital part in their semi-final run.

Advantage Goa

While Costa has called for his team to learn from their mistakes after last season’s shortcomings, this clash will test his mettle in many ways.

The Islanders played their first three matches within a week, including two away fixtures and have lost several notable players to injuries. Furthermore, he was highly critical of his team’s attitude during their embarrassing performance against Odisha.

FC Goa beat Mumbai City on three out of four occasions last season, scoring 12 goals in the process, including a 5-1 win during the away leg of the first semi-final. However, Mumbai City beat their rivals 1-0 in the return leg at Fatorda Stadium despite going on to miss out on the final.

“The last game we played against FC Goa, we beat them in Goa. I agree the last season was a difficult season for us against them. They have almost the same team as last season, so they haven’t changed a lot,” Costa said at the pre-match press conference.

“We have some new players. But this is a different season and the good thing is that we learnt from our mistakes and now we know how to beat Goa. The most important thing is to (focus) on the things we must do and we can do. If we do the correct things, we can win,” he added.

Key absentees

Costa confirmed that players who missed the Odisha clash won’t feature against FC Goa as well which means Rowllin Borges, Moudou Sougou and defender Mato Grgic are all ruled out. The extent of Borges’ injury is unknown as he is not even included in India’s 26-man squad for the Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifiers games against Afghanistan and Oman.

Meanwhile, winger Seiminlen Doungel will miss the game after picking up a red card during FC Goa’s 2-2 draw against NorthEast United while they are also sweating on the fitness of Edu Bedia.

Tactical battle

Mumbai City are expected to continue with the same 4-3-3 formation that they employed against Odisha. Souvik Chakrabarti is likely to occupy the right-back spot after serving his one-match suspension, partnering Subhashish Bose, Pratik Choudhary and Sarthak Golui in defence.

Serge Kevyn or Mohammed Rafique could join Raynier Fernandes and Paulo Machado in the midfield and Amine Chermiti will lead the attack, flanked by Mohammed Larbi and Diego Carlos.

On the other hand, Sergio Lobera is likely to stick with FC Goa’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system but there could be some minor tweaks in their attacking line. Ferran Corominas has been deployed in a slightly deeper role whenever Manvir Singh has played a striker. However, Hugo Boumous’ return from injury could see Coro playing up top with Jackichand Singh and Brandon Fernandes on the wings.

Mumbai City’s approach will dictate the flow of the game. If they sit back cautiously and surrender possession, it could come back to haunt them, given that they are up against one of the most ruthless teams in the league.

Ahmed Jahouh will keep the play ticking along for the visitors and if Mumbai City do go with a high-pressing style, denying Goa time and space on the ball to play from the back, they could cause problems.