ISL Analysis | Persistent Pune unlocks Mumbai's stern defence

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ISL Media

ISL Analysis | Persistent Pune unlocks Mumbai's stern defence

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Subhayan Dutta


FC Pune City continued their giant-killing run in ISL as they overcame an adamant Mumbai City side in the ‘Maha-derby’ with a last-minute winner. Mumbai came into the game after a lucky win against Goa last week and kept the hosts at bay for a majority of the game before Alfaro stole the show.

It’s time referees took notice of Mumbai’s dirty tactics

FC Goa and FC Pune have been one of few sides in ISL that have shown any kind of technical coherence so far, and after seeing off the former in a scrappy manner last week, Mumbai City FC looked well on their way on doing the same to their derby rivals. Their sly tactics of small pushes and shoves has worked wonders for them in past years with officials not paying it too much heed. But it’s high time the officials see through the cynical play and cautioned them early in games.

While a foul lacking malice are, generally, not followed by a yellow card, but accumulating a sack of those certainly warrant a booking. Mumbai City FC came into the ‘Maha-derby’ committing 31 fouls and with 5 yellow cards to their name, and given the refereeing standards of ISL that has received public wraths for overlooking dangerous fouls and committing glaring offside mistakes, those numbers are bound to increase.

The visitors continued their game plan against Pune too, committing 19 fouls and seeing a yellow before they ended up conceding a penalty in the process through an unnecessary tackle. That, in a way, brought an end to Mumbai’s resolute defending as they had to go up in search of a goal during the closing stages. At the end, they ended up committing 24 fouls in this game alone and if they are not checked soon, the number could be on the rise. 

Mumbai City’ strength stems from their unshakeable base

Mumbai have always been a side that has focused more often than not on defending rather than scoring. Their squad has always reflected it with an over reliance on towering, sturdy players rather than pacey and technically gifted ones. And if there are two players who personify their style of play they stand at the heart of their defence - centre-halves Lucian Goian and Marcio Rozario.

The club decided to retain the core of their defence and it has helped them maintain some sort of continuity that is often missing in the ISL. Barring their opening game against Bengaluru FC, who counter-attacked at a terrifying pace and in numbers, Mumbai have the perfect pairing to stop most if not all teams in the league. Not only do teams who prefer slow tactical buildups have to deal with the centre backs, the wall of Gerson Vieira and Sehnaj Singh in the centre of the park a different problem as well. The midfield duo shielded their defence in a manner that would have even made Jose Mourinho proud. With 5 clearances, 2 interceptions, 3 blocks, and countess fouls, they did all the dirty work while providing the last line of defence with a perfect screen. While this could help them getting close to the playoffs or even further, it is highly unlikely that this is a recipe for a win.

The Showstopper

On a day, when FC Pune’s attack was largely made to feel toothless by Mumbai City FC’s unshakeable defence and rigorous fouls, the visitors’ unbelievable persistence reaped them the fruit in the last minute and Emiliano Alfaro is, largely, the man responsible for it. While their last game’s hero Marcelinho was having a frustrating day with 5 attempts and none going into the net, the Uruguayan striker stepped up to the plate when his team needed him the most.With all of Pune’s crosses being rendered ineffective by Mumbai’s central defensive duo, the hosts knew that their only chance of a break, if any, would only come on the counter. And the exact thing happened when Mumbai sent Goian in the attacking third in search for a late winner, a long ball from the back found Pune forwards running away with the goal. Though one goal was from the spot and another a simple tap-in, it was Alfaro’s patience that has been the key here. The former NorthEast United striker, unlike Marcelinho, didn’t make any futile attempts today. His attempt to hold his run saw him suffering innumerable fouls and unsuccessful runs throughout the game before he broke Mumbai’s highline in the last minute with a clinical number 9 run and notched the winner.

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