ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t – Mumbai City FC

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ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t – Mumbai City FC

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Subhayan Dutta

03/13/2019

Despite being one of the most clinical performers in the ISL this season, Mumbai City had quite an anti-climactic exit from the tournament after suffering a 5-2 aggregate defeat to FC Goa. However, they have had a massive upgrade from last season and the Islanders could be a real threat next season.

What Clicked

After a mediocre season last time around where a seventh-place finish didn’t see the Islanders bothering any other ISL side whatsoever, the franchise had to go for a total revamp and get it right. And although they were stubborn enough not to deviate from their rigid playing philosophy, Mumbai did manage to get in a manager who could excel in that setup. 

If there has been one side in the ISL this year where almost all of their imports clicked marvellously - it has to be Mumbai City FC. Costa’s design demanded some incredibly physical and athletic players up front and Mumbai got exactly that in Modou Sogou, Arnold Issoko, Rafael Bastos, and Paulo Machado.

Together, the four star imports were directly involved in 34 goals as the Islanders dominated a good quarter of the league mercilessly. Despite starting in a dull manner, Modou Sogou turned out to be quite a buy for Mumbai with the Senegalese ending up being the second highest scorer in the league. Despite his affinity on being the wrong side of the offside trap often and not being the most clinical of strikers, Sougou managed as many 12 goals and was Amrinder Singh’s go-to man with every long kick.

If not gone by goals and solely impact, then Jorge Costa would definitely choose Arnold Issoko over every other import. Coming from Congo, the well-sculpted 26-year-old gave Mumbai phenomenal pace and unparalleled stamina up and down the right flank. Such superior was his presence on that right flank that not a single club was able to totally silent the full-back turned winger. Though he could score only three goals and assist six times, he created innumerable chances inside the box that never saw the light of the day.

Bastos and Machado mightn’t have been high on scoring or making a tremendous impact but they remained in the starting eleven throughout the season for the unbelievable balance they brought to the side. With a defensive minded coach at the helm, Costa’s biggest challenge was to get the right transition from defence to attack every time Mumbai attempted a counter, and this duo executed it almost perfectly every single time. While the industrious Bastos ensured that Mumbai retained more of the ball in the attacking third, Machado’s vision found the likes of Sougou and Issoko behind the defence most of the times. The ISL has seen some good dead-ball specialists last season but the unique swirl and speed that Machado’s whip could create, is not heard of in Indian football.

One can play the most negative of football and shore up the defence with quantity or quality, but a team is as good as its goalkeeper. With Asian football seeing more goals in set-pieces than most other leagues in the world, Mumbai needed a leader at the back who could bring calm in the box in times of chaos. And Costa, fortunately, already had that in veteran custodian Amrinder Singh. Though Pawan Singh might have leapfrogged Amrinder on the list of clean sheets, the second choice Indian goalkeeper could easily claim to have the safest pair of hands in the league. Playing 18 matches, Amrinder made an astonishing 60 saves, which is the highest in the league. 

What Didn’t

In one of his first press-conferences immediately after his appointment, Costa had said that he doesn’t care how he got three points as long as he got it. While the adamancy seemed intriguing then, as the season prolonged, it turned out to be evidently harmful. Costa had a singular setup around which he kept modifying time and again, and the problem was against sides that played free-flowing football. Mumbai lost six matches in the league and they were against Jamshedpur FC, FC Goa, NorthEast United and FC Pune City. And barring the last game against the Steelers, which saw Iain Hume free at the goal quite luckily, Mumbai looked comprehensively dominated by the other three.

What has been the sole similarity between JFC, FCG, and NEUFC? Their passing footballing style. Against most other quintessential sides who play hard and quick football on the counter – Mumbai are a tough nut to crack. However, with the tempo slowed down and the opponent keeping and passing the ball at a subtle pace, the Islanders lose out of options, almost always. Their home game against FC Goa in the playoffs was a perfect example of that. Costa’s top four seems to be have brought in to win the 50-50s, something a slow passing side hardly offers them. With Costa much likely to stick with the club next season, he could improve upon this aspect of his structure.

One cannot get the best of everything and Mumbai didn’t get it either. While the imports clicked for them beautifully, their bench was a catastrophe. Mumbai have been one of the few sides in ISL who didn’t shoulder the responsibility of giving chance to the young talents and they had a good reason for it, their first eleven was sufficient. However, it ended up as a severe blow for them. While Costa was extremely lucky to not see any of his stalwarts missing more than two games with injuries or suspensions, he never had options on the bench that could offer a different perspective.

After scoring a world-class goal in the first game itself, Pranjal Bhumij never got a full match under his belt. He could play only in 10 games and not enough to make an impact. The other likes of Alen Deory, Bipin Singh, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, and more, hardly got a chance for they never fit into Costa’s philosophy of fast counter attacking play. Though it wasn’t a worry for him this season, a similar strategy next time could bring the house down.

Quite strangely, while Costa might have been Mumbai’s biggest strength this season, the manager has also been equally responsible for their downfall. And with the City Group now reportedly eyeing to invest in the club, Costa’s future at the club would need to be very carefully assessed.

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