Winless since the first games of their respective seasons, Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters will be seeking a change in fortune when the two sides meet for their second Indian Super League encounter this season at the Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday.
Mumbai’s only victory this campaign came in the reverse fixture when a late Amine Chermiti goal condemned the Blasters to a 1-0 defeat in Kochi. However, the Islanders have since drawn three and lost two matches to see themselves languishing in the seventh place in the table.
Blasters have done just slightly worse. After beating ATK in the season opener in Kochi, Eelco Schattorie’s men have lost three and drawn two to sit a point and a place below their hosts on Thursday.
Kerala have lost both games on the road this season away at bottom club Hyderabad FC and champions Bengaluru FC. Mumbai City FC, meanwhile, have had a torrid time at the Mumbai Football Arena falling to two 4-2 defeats against Odisha FC and FC Goa.
Something will have to give when the two sides meet on Thursday and there will be pressure on both managers to end their winless streaks.
“Both teams have an equal amount of pressure,” Mumbai coach Costa said ahead of the game.
“We do not know about the opponents, but I can be clear in saying that we have played under pressure and I’ll tell you why. We need to be closer to the place in the league table that we want to be and we deserve to be in. But this pressure is a part of football. Football is all about the pressure and we must know how to deal with such pressure,” he added.
Defensive mistakes have plagued both sides’ campaigns so far. Injuries to key players have contributed to the sloppiness at the back. Mumbai are without their first-choice centre-back Mato Grgic that has forced them to play with an all-Indian backline while Kerala too are without their chief central defenders Gianni Zuiverloon and Jairo Rodrigues.
The visitors have had a problem organising the defence on set-pieces without their two experienced defenders having conceded five out of the seven goals from dead-ball situations. Mumbai too have leaked four goals on set-pieces but their defence has also made errors in open play. Individual mistakes have cost Mumbai quite a few points this season.
“It’s always a problem between games, when you lose points over individual mistakes,” Costa said.
“But the thing that we must take from these last two games is that we are playing as a team. We are fighting. We have a lot of quality in our game. We just need to be more focused, to work and to fix these small mistakes,” he added.
Mumbai’s season so far has seen two contrasting spells. In their first two matches they kept two clean sheets but managed just one goal while in the four games that followed they a total of eight goals but conceded twelve.
Both teams come into the game having conceded a late equaliser in their respective previous matches. Mumbai City who took the lead in stoppage time through Serge Kevyn against ATK
immediately squandered the lead to draw 2-2. Kerala, on the other hand, let a one-goal lead slip in the dying minutes against ten-man FC Goa at home.
Thus, both teams will be especially keen to cut down on their defensive errors on Thursday that may lead to a cautious approach from both sides.
Team news and tactical profile
Apart from Zuiverloon and Rodrigues, the Blasters will miss the services of Mario Arques and Moustapha Gning in midfield. The responsibility will thus rest with young Jeakson Singh to make his presence felt in the central area of the pitch.
For Mumbai, the injury concerns have eased with the return of Rowllin Borges and Modou Sougou, but Diego Carlos who picked up an injury against ATK will miss the game, so will defender Grgic.
Costa thus is likely to stick with his all-Indian defence as Serge Kevyn will be expected to fill in in place of Carlos.
Mumbai will stick to their usual 4-3-3 formation with Borges, Paulo Machado and Mohamed Larbi forming the midfield three. Upfront, Amine Chermiti is expected to lead the line flanked by Sougou and Kevyn.
At the back, Sarthak Golui and Pratik Chaudhari will resume their partnership with Souvik Chakraborty and Subashish Bose occupying the full-back roles.
For Blasters, Schattorie has shuttled between a 4-3-1-2 and a 4-4-2 formation this season but is likely to go with the former to match Mumbai’s numbers in midfield.
In defence, Mohamad Rakip, Raju Gaikwad, Abdul Hakku and Jessel Carneiro would in most likelihood take to the pitch on Thursday behind a midfield three of Prasanth K, Jeakson and Rahul KP. Sergio Cidoncha would occupy the space between the midfield and forward line with Messi Bouli and Batholomew Ogbeche starting upfront.
With an all-foreign attack for both sides, the defences will have to be on top to keep the scoring down.
Mumbai hold the edge
Easing injury concerns and promising performances in the last two matches gives Mumbai City FC the edge in the encounter against Blasters. Mumbai who are due a win at home where they hold a very decent record over the years will fancy their chances against the Blasters who have had some of their worst games in the ISL at the Mumbai Football Arena.
Last season, the Blasters lost 6-1 in the corresponding fixture, while in 2016, a Diego Forlan-led Mumbai City FC had thumped the Kerala outfit 5-0.
Although, none of the teams are in the kind of form to produce a one-sided result of that magnitude, a victory on Thursday would be no less significant to their respective seasons.