Mumbai City FC take on holders Bengaluru FC at the Mumbai Football Arena on Friday in their quest to claim a top-four finish in the ongoing Indian Super League (ISL).
Having suffered back-to-back 0-2 defeats against ATK and Odisha FC, Mumbai City have their task cut out as they need to regroup and raise the bar to regain their claim for the playoff berth. They are currently fifth on the table with 16 points and have a game in hand over fourth-placed Odisha, who have 21 points. Bengaluru have 22 points and are placed second.
With a scrap of the semi-final slot getting intense, the defending champions would be the last team one likes to face. But for Mumbai, the sight of Bengaluru FC may not be as concerning.
Under Jorge Costa, Mumbai City are unbeaten in the three games against Bengaluru and on Friday would be hoping to become the first ISL team to do the double over the champions.
The Blues haven’t been at their very best this season although they bounced back after their narrow defeat against ATK by claiming three points against FC Goa and Jamshedpur FC. Skipper Sunil Chhetri has scored three goals in their last two matches and a total of eight goals this season.
Midfielder Erik Paartalu is in excellent form for the Blues with two goals and four assists so far and Dimas Delgado leads the chart for most number of passes this season. The good news is that new signing, striker Deshorn Brown, will be available for selection for the visitors.
However, form often goes out of the window when Bengaluru come up against Mumbai. When the two teams met earlier this season, it were Mumbai City that came away with all three points in a five-goal thriller that ended 3-2.
“Mumbai is a team that makes things difficult for us. They are a counter-attacking team. They pump long balls forward. You need to score first. If they score first, then they will wait and go only in counters. So, we will try and score first,” Bengaluru head coach Carles Cuadrat said.
He added, “The league situation can change very fast. ATK looked good and now they have lost two matches. Odisha has suddenly started to improve. We have six games to play and if we are in a good dynamic we can be in the playoffs. They are going to try and start on a good note for sure.”
However, Costa has plenty of problems to contend with.
Having lost Paulo Machado to a long-term injury, Costa will look to mix up his options in midfield to find a creative spark that can unlock Bengaluru’s defense. They will rely on their attackers to make amends for their defensive lapses and an end-to-end affair is likely when the teams take the field.
Amine Chermiti and Modou Sougou has six goals combined for the hosts and the service from the midfield has been sub-par. Costa’s team has tried to use the flanks to good effect but overall, Mumbai City’s display in their last game against Odisha left a lot to be desired.
“It’s true that we lost the last two games. We didn’t deserve to lose against ATK and the last game against Odisha was probably our worst game in the one and a half years that I’m here. It’s difficult for me. I can’t explain what happened in the last game,” Costa said.
Mumbai have struggled at home this season winning just one of their four matches so far. Their solitary home win was a scrappy 2-1 success over Hyderabad FC. In the other three games, they lost by two-goal margins to the other three teams that currently occupy the semi-final spots along with Bengaluru.
Speaking about Mumbai’s chances of reaching the top four, Costa said, “We are five points below the top four. We have 18 points to play for and if possible, we are aiming to win all of them. If we do it, I’m sure we will reach the top four.
“We are not having the correct balance this season, but we have done some very good things this season and I know we can do it. Hopefully, we will have a good game. We are here to fight for the top four.”
Bengaluru FC have been watertight at the back this season and that’s where Mumbai may struggle in the absence of Machado. Defensively, Costa’s team have been leaking goals all season with set-pieces being a problem area for his side.
Carles Cuadrat’s men, meanwhile, have been innovative on set-plays leaving many teams guessing what they would come up with. Thus, Mumbai City would have to be at their very best in these situations if they are to revive their semi-final hopes.
For Bengaluru FC, a win would be necessary to keep pace with FC Goa in the race for top spot. A win would send them to the summit for the time being and pile pressure on Sergio Lobera’s men. Thus for Chhetri and Co it is going to be all about cracking the Costa code in Mumbai on Friday.