Mumbai City FC on Friday became the first Indian Super League team to do the league double over Bengaluru FC when they beat the defending champions 2-0 at the Mumbai Football Arena. Of the three defeats that Bengaluru have suffered so far this season, two have come against Jorge Costa’s men.
On Friday, Mumbai may have enjoyed a bit of fortune in the way both their goals materialised, but there always seemed only one winner in the contest. Even though Bengaluru FC shaded the possession (51%) in the game, Mumbai seemed to have better control for most parts of the match. They gave Bengaluru very few chances while creating plenty of problems at the other end.
The defending champions had just one shot on target all game and it came in the early period before Mumbai scored. After the home side took the lead, Bengaluru rarely looked like clawing their way back into the game, apart from first-half stoppage time when a mistake from Sarthak Golui allowed Sunil Chhetri to sneak behind the backline and score. The linesman came to the Indian defender’s rescue and ruled the goal out.
Going forward, Mumbai had five shots on target, forcing three saves off Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the Bengaluru goal.
Same old story for Bengaluru
This has been a familiar pattern in Mumbai-Bengaluru games since Costa took charge of the west-Indian club. In the reverse fixture, Mumbai had eight shots at the Bengaluru goal in a game that ended 3-2 in their favour. Bengaluru had just two on target in that game, with one coming from the penalty spot and the other from a Mumbai City player who scored an own goal.
Last season as well, when Bengaluru went down 1-0 in Mumbai, they had allowed just one shot on target in the entire game.
“I have tried different things against Mumbai. I have been trying to get all three points in every game against Mumbai, but it’s not happening. Sometimes this happens in football. We have been working on trying to change this, but it didn’t happen tonight. We are working hard to try and win every game,” Bengaluru coach Carles Cuadrat said after the match.
In all these games, Mumbai have managed to unsettle Bengaluru’s rhythm with their constant closing down and an intense high press causing the opponents problems in the build-up phase.
In attack, Mumbai have troubled them with crosses and long diagonal balls and runners attacking the full-backs. Out of the five goals Mumbai have scored this season, three have been scored through this route. The two mistakes on Friday that led to Mumbai’s goals were primarily caused by the uncertainty Bengaluru full-backs felt in defending these situations. Although Gurpreet was largely at fault for the first goal, Nishu Kumar was constantly troubled by Modou Sougou’s inward runs.
In midfield, Saurav Das, Rowllin Borges and Mohamed Larbi did a fine job of plugging the holes through the middle that Bengaluru could have potentially exploited. The packed central area forced them to then go wide. In the first half, with Chhetri and Ashqiue Kuruniyan playing in the wide areas, the Blues struggled without the natural width these inverted forwards failed to provide.
The second goal was a bitter blow for Bengaluru who had tweaked their approach to create more chances just minutes before. The strike completely blocked any chances of a Bengaluru recovery and gave Mumbai the license to sit in a low block and wait for the counter-attack to hurt the visitors.
Mumbai’s defence finally shows up
Bengaluru haven’t been the most prolific team this season with only Jamshedpur, NorthEast United and Hyderabad FC having scored fewer goals than them. But Mumbai’s defensive record coming into the game wasn’t great either having conceded 21 goals – a record only better than bottom side Hyderabad.
This is where the back four stepped up and snuffed out any Bengaluru endeavours to breach the defence. The four defenders made 42 clearances among themselves and put in six blocks. The full-backs Subhasish Bose and Sarthak Golui dealt with the wide players of Bengaluru well producing 11 tackles among themselves.
The combined effort of the back four and the six players ahead of them meant that Mumbai City kept their first clean sheet at home this season and one after ten games. Costa, who had expressed in unhappiness at their defensive record in the build-up to the game, was obviously a happy man after the match.
“I am happy with the defence. We played almost a perfect game in defence. We made a few mistakes, but that’s a part of football. When you keep a clean sheet you always have a better chance to win. However, we have to sustain it until the end of the season. I hope we can repeat this performance,” he said after the game.
Mumbai will take a lot of confidence from this win over the champions and Costa will believe he has the semi-finals well within reach despite being two points behind the fourth spot as things stand.
For Bengaluru, the defeat could provide other teams with a blueprint on how to stop them. Cuadrat would thus want an instant response from his side as the margin of error has all but vanished after this loss.
With just three points separating Bengaluru from fifth-placed Mumbai, the champions may start looking over their shoulders much more now than chase the elusive top spot.