The post-match press conferences of Mumbai City head coach Jorge Costa and his Kerala Blasters equivalent Eelco Schattorie now sound like a broken record. They say almost the same things every time.
Unfortunately, the coaches aren’t being helped by their teams. Much like the words, they have repeated the same mistakes and shown similar weaknesses and strengths in all their matches so far.
On Thursday, when the two teams met at the Mumbai Football Arena, hoping to put an end to their respective five-game winless streaks, neither team were able to find answers to the problems plaguing them so far this season. The game ended in a draw and on balance of play was a fair result.
Blasters’ bright start
For the Blasters, the result looks better considering their injury woes. Already missing key players in defence and midfield, the Blasters lost captain and chief striker, Bartholomew Ogbeche before the game.
However, it didn’t seem to affect the visiting team at all in the opening exchanges on Thursday. Schattorie used his resources cleverly to exploit the shortcomings of Mumbai City FC. Deploying a fluid and flexible 4-2-3-1 formation, the Blasters made a mockery of the Mumbai press in the first thirty minutes of the match.
Using central midfielder Jeakson Singh in thr build-up play, the Blasters showed great tactical adaptability. Schattorie’s men switched to a 3-3-3-1 in possession. The full-backs pushed up in midfield as Jeakson dropped between the centre-backs to form the fulcrum of their initial build-up play.
Sergio Cidoncha flanked by the two full-backs dropped from his attacking midfield position to receive the ball in space between the lines to wreak havoc in Mumbai’s half. The Spaniard, who had a 91% passing accuracy in the game, bossed the central area of the pitch.
Kerala always had three men upfront who stayed narrow, letting the full-backs provide the width, making it a five-man attack at times. This was a strategy quite similar to the system used by Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool when in possession.
However, despite holding around 70% of the possession in the first thirty minutes, Kerala Blasters failed to cause Mumbai too many problems at the back due to the absence of key personnel who could make an impact in the opponent’s final third.
“We miss someone in the midfield who can take the game to the opponents. Some missing elements made it difficult to win but the strategy that we put on the table worked,” Schattorie said after the game.
Mumbai’s ‘pressing’ problems
Jorge Costa revealed after the game that he was slightly surprised by the fluid 4-2-3-1 system adopted by Schattorie and thus it took his side some time to adapt to the visitors’ approach.
“We knew how Kerala play out from the back, so we pressed them aggressively, but that did not work well. We realised that and changed it slightly. Then, we got more control,” Mumbai City captain Paulo Machado told Scroll.in after the match.
The Blasters using their multiple options in a 3-3-3-1 formation easily bypassed Mumbai’s press, leaving them exposed at the back. It was a clever ploy from Schattorie considering the home side’s disjointed pressing in the previous games at home.
In defeats to Odisha and FC Goa, Mumbai were guilty of a disorganised press. Their forward and defence line pushed up to squeeze the space high up the pitch, but the defensive line didn’t follow suit leaving plenty of space behind their midfield and defence lines for teams to exploit. Kerala managed to achieve the same results but couldn’t be as damaging in the final third as Goa and Odisha who scored four goals each in those games.
Mumbai abandoned the high-pressing approach midway through the first half after struggling to get on the ball. They allowed the centre-backs of Kerala to have easy possession but started pressing once Kerala entered the central area of the pitch. The strategy paid dividends.
The visitors struggling to adjust to this tweaked approach by the home side lost possession in the central areas as Mumbai created two big openings through quick transitions.
In the 33rd minute, Modou Sougou was found in space vacated by the Kerala full-back and it needed goalkeeper TP Rehenesh to cut off the cross that was heading towards an unmarked Mohamed Larbi at the far post.
Three minutes later, the duo combined again. But Sougou’s cross was a tad too high for Larbi to score from close range. In the 41st minute, Larbi turned provider to create an opening for Sougou who failed to generate adequate power behind his shot.
The pattern of play was similar for the first fifteen minutes of the second half as Mumbai conjured up chances to score the opening goal through counter-attacks but Rehenesh was up to the task.
The game petered out after the hour mark as neither team had full control of the game. It became an end-to-end affair with neither team showing the energy to make a real difference.
Same old story
Eventually, a couple of individual mistakes from Mumbai allowed Kerala to open the scoring. Machado failed to provide cover in midfield before Sarthak Golui failed in his tackle inside the box in the build-up to Messi Bouli’s opener.
It seemed Kerala had eked out a win despite not being at their best post the thirty-minute mark, but Mumbai profited from lapse from the visiting defence to draw parity just two minutes later.
The quick-fire goals only ended up further rattling the two sides, neither of whom exerted any control for the remainder of the match that ended in a stalemate.
It was a result that neither team had hoped for at the start of the game, but nothing more than what they deserved. With the draw, Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters’ winless runs stretched to six matches and the 1-1 draw in Mumbai showed that there are few solutions in sight.