Mumbai City FC manager Jorge Costa dismissed suggestions that his team needed to work on committing fewer fouls in matches after finding themselves at the top of the charts for fouls this season. The former FC Porto captain, who had earned a reputation for being a tough-tackling defender in his playing days, felt that contact and fouls are part of the sport.

Mumbai City FC have committed 92 fouls this season, the most by any team in the ISL. Costa’s men also topped the same chart last season with 290 fouls. However, the statistic barely bothers the Portuguese manager who feels his team could play a lot harder this season.

“Football is not ballet. There will be contact,” Costa said at the pre-match press conference ahead of the Kerala Blasters game.

He added, “Fouls are part of football. If we are committing too many fouls there are four men on the pitch to decide if it’s a yellow card, red card or a penalty. Personally, I like this way of playing. There are some people in Indian football with a lot of responsibility who have an opinion, but I don’t agree we are playing too hard. In fact, I feel we can and we must play harder.”

Costa might be excused to think the way he does if past numbers are anything to go by. In the five ISL seasons so far, on three occasions the team that committed the most fouls went on to win the title.

However, Mumbai City FC under Jorge Costa have moved away from the counter-attacking style of football this season, keeping more of the ball and taking games to their opponents even away from home.

In four out of the six games so far this season, Mumbai have had more ball possession than their opponents with three of those games coming away from home.It is a shift that was also acknowledged by the Kerala Blasters coach Eelco Schattorie ahead of Thursday’s clash.

“To be honest, Mumbai play better football this season than last year,” the Dutch coach said.

“A little bit more attractive. Even in the last game, they had some nice passages of play. They were also a little bit unlucky. They have a good team. I think they can be higher (in the standings) if they had all their players fit.”

Costa pointed to a change in the type of personnel at his disposal for ushering in a shift in football philosophy at Mumbai this season.

“There has been a change and I have said before as well that it depends on what players you have. When you prepare to make a special dish, if you don’t have the ingredients, you don’t make it. It’s the same in football and I try to zero in on the approach that would suit us best. And, if that leads to a better style, it’s down to the players I have at my disposal,” the 48-year-old said.

Late goals an Asian football problem?

The ISL has seen late drama of late with teams conceding a majority of goals in the dying minutes of games since the international break. Explaining the failure of teams to see games through, Blasters coach Schattorie suggested that it’s a problem many teams in Asia have faced over the years.

“This is a trend I have observed in Asian football. There are a lot of goals in the first and last minutes of each half and through set-pieces. It is a case of a lack of concentration and it isn’t something that is restricted to India,” the Dutchman said.

Costa, however, was left surprised by the number of late goals conceded by teams in the ISL and felt it is something all players must keep in mind and keep their concentration for the the entire duration of the game.

Mumbai City FC host Kerala Blasters in Mumbai on Thursday with just one point separating the two teams. With both teams managing just one win so far this season, the game in Mumbai is thus of prime importance for the home side and Kerala Blasters.