After 114 matches of enthralling action, it is down to two teams - Mumbai City FC and ATK-Mohun Bagan, that have survived and outlasted to roll the dice in the final, for the ultimate prize. While Antonio Lopez Habas aiming for a third ISL title, Sergio Lobera is set out to conquer what he missed.
Where do they have an edge?
The entire team is built around the policy of possession-based football, with the Spanish flair being a predominant flair for any Sergio Lobera unit. The formula has seen them fool almost every ISL side this season, with the defenders falling prey to the sheer ability to run riot in their business area. While Ahmed Jahouh is mainly seen in the role of an anchor, Hugo Boumous is focal when it comes to attacks, while his wingman duo of Bipin Singh and Cy Goddard, complimenting him with equal competence to feed their strikers - Bartholomew Ogbeche and Adam le Fondre for the kill.
Bound to produce results, the ‘Islanders’ have scored 37 goals this season, at a rate of almost two goals per game. While the other departments of Lobera’s unit are also decent, their strength lies in dynamic high-pressing football, with the formula working successfully in the Indian Super League ever since its inception, even though FC Goa - a big-time advocate of the same, have failed to win the league. But, Mumbai City FC is different, with Lobera learning from his past experiences and injecting more resistance to his players. To sum it up, the team can hardly lose a game if they go about their business with their natural game.
Where are they lacking?
No department as such. But, for the sake of the argument, we need to throw light on the relatively inexperienced full-backs in the form of Vignesh Dakshinamurthy and Amey Ranawade, who are vulnerable in pockets. Their shortcomings were clearly visible when the FC Goa wingers haunted their box in the first leg of the semi-finals, leading to the first goal. With the youngsters improving their game along the way, it is expected that they are going to show more maturity when both sides take the field at the Fatorda Stadium, in Goa, for the ultimate prize this weekend.
Men who matter
One of Sergio Lobera’s most trusted men when it comes to scoring goals - Bartholomew Ogbeche has lived up to the hype on most occasions, even though he was more prolific in the past two seasons. The 8 goals this season, the French footballer is not one to be taken lightly, especially with him playing against ATK-Mohun Bagan - a team against which he scored two times already this season. The embedded thrust in his game oozes out when he’s going for the goal, a trait that forms the building blocks of a successful scorer. A couple of assists to his name makes it obvious that Ogbeche is not a man to restrict himself to designated boundaries. With all the above making it quite obvious why he can be a difference in the title clash, ATK-Mohun Bagan ought to have special plans to counter him.
Undoubtedly, the mastermind of most of the attacks for Mumbai City FC, the skillful player is hard to contend with. Hugo Boumous likes to keep the ball, stitch up a few passes with his teammates, and then strategically lay the ball for the striker to complete the cycle. When he doesn't have the ball, he makes himself busy to regain the ball before marching for a fresh assault. The French footballer has had a long association with head coach Sergio Lobera and their partnership has been doing wonders till now. With seven assists this season so far this season, along with 837 passes at a rate of 55.8 per game, he is a player who keeps himself occupied in the field and hogs most of the limelight owing to his sensational style of play. With an ISL trophy still eluding, Saturday will be a make-or-break match for the playmaker.
Where do they have an edge?
For a team solely dependent on counter play, there’s no doubt that ATK-Mohun Bagan is going to be at the top of their game in the particular department. Antonio Lopez Habas’ assortment includes - Roy Krishna, David Williams, Marcelino, and even Manvir Singh, all perfectly built for the trade. We cannot deny the contributions from the holding midfielders like Carl McHugh and Javi Hernandes, yet the frontline must account for most of the impact. With two of the three goals scored by the Mariners in the playoffs coming from a counter-attack, it just establishes their mindset going into the title clash.
What works in their style of play is the ability of their forwards to drop back, help the build-up process and then switch back to the ultra-attack mode in a jiffy. It’s not that everyone is designated for a certain role, with Roy Krishna bursting out of domain to provide the final pass for each of the goals scored against Northeast United FC across two legs, with David and Manvir on the receiving end, completing the whole act by joining the last dot. Even though Mumbai City FC boasts of having a decent backline, they cannot be deemed as impenetrable.
Where are they lacking?
Leaving it too late often caused them problems in the past and as things stand, there’s no second chance in the summit clash, unlike group stages where a poor show can be covered in the following game. ATK-Mohun Bagan needs to show more intent in the final third while conceding a goal before scoring might also create a few problems for them. Overall, the balance needs to be maintained, an aspect on which Antonio Lopez Habas should work to claim his third Indian Super League title as a coach.
Men who matter
We can go on listing the name of Roy Krishna for the entire season and still justify why the prolific striker is ATK-Mohun Bagan’s most important player of the side in every game. Just to underline his heroics in the play-offs, the Fijian was the provider for each of the three goals. It just goes to show that the footballer, even though deputed to soar the scoreline, has more tricks up his sleeves than we expect. With 14 goals and seven assists to the season, there’s no reason Mumbai City FC should take him lightly, having burdened with the duty to check him in the final third, as well as cut down his supply chain when he rolls back in a deeper role to initiate attacks. Krishna is yet to score a goal against Mumbai City FC this season and Saturday’s clash provides him the perfect occasion to break the jinx.
From being overlooked by Kerala Blasters FC to making a memorable comeback with ATK-Mohun Bagan, it has been a rollercoaster ride for Sandesh Jhingan in the past twelve months. Along with Tiri, the footballer has formed the best defence in the season, having conceded just 15 goals this season in 20 matches during the group stages. The solidly-built stopper has been ‘the man’ to beat in the ongoing season, with the mental strength allowing him to slog out even after taking painkillers before the second-leg semi-final against Northeast United FC. Jhingan’s structure will help him get the better of aerial duels, with Mumbai City FC’s primary strikers boasting of just average height. The vast experience which he brings along would add more value when the Kerala-based takes the field this Saturday evening.