Coach Alexandre Guimaraes decided to field Boithang Haokip up front. The man from Manipur is essentially a central midfielder and not a striker. Against Atlético de Kolkata, Mumbai had no target man to look up to and play a pass.
In fact, playing without a traditional striker worked in Mumbai City FC’s favour. In their previous two matches, Mumbai looked pedestrian and devoid of ideas in attack. On numerous occasions, they had to resort to the long aerial ball approach. But with Forlan isolated up front, it didn’t result in much.
Haokip and Defederico made the system work
The introduction of Haokip made Mumbai’s midfield look fluid and free flowing. He and Defederico switched positions throughout the match and made it extremely difficult for the Kolkata defenders to mark them. Both men dropped deep and made late runs into the final third all through the match.
This meant that Mumbai outnumbered Kolkata in the middle of the park on quite a few occasions, opposition defenders had no one to mark, but all of a sudden found themselves chasing Mumbai’s attackers.
This transpired as a result of both Haokip and Defederico positioning themselves in midfield and using their pace to maraud forward when a through ball was played. Arnab Mondal and Jose Arroyo aren’t the quickest defenders and were caught multiple times chasing Mumbai’s pacy duo.
The hosts displayed the impact of their flud system early in the match. In the eighth minute, Defederico was initially positioned deep in his own half and as Mumbai began to move the ball forward, so did Defederico but at a jogging pace.
The Argentine then slotted himself quietly between Kolkata’s two centre backs before skillfully controlling a ball from Khongjee and then played Haokip through on goal. Haokip rushed past Pritam Kotal easily but lost his balance just outside the box and stumbled to the ground.
Guimaraes’ False 9 tactic
That was one such instance in which coach Alexandre Guimaraes false 9 tactic almost paid dividends. Both Defederico and Haokip took turns to play the role of the false 9 and did so on a consistent basis. It meant that the Kolkata defenders were left guessing as to who they had to mark since both of Mumbai’s false 9’s moved differently.
Hence they both brought on a great deal of mystery in the way Mumbai attacked the game.
Minutes later, it was Haokip’s turn to find himself with acres of space to run forward. Positioned deep within his own half, he coerced the Kolkata defence to play a high line. Mumbai surely did practice this move in training.
Haokip, without looking at his teammates, made a late dashing run into the Kolkata half found himself 1v1 with the keeper. Unfortunately for him, his stinging left-footed drive hit the crossbar.
The home side were wreaking havoc throughout the first half while the visitors were still trying to adjust to the pace of the game. The likes of Javi Lara and Borja couldn’t get themselves on the ball as regularly as they would have liked. Atlético de Kolkata like having possession and the lack of it frustrated them.
Mumbai were finally rewarded for all their dominance and broke the deadlock in the 27th minute. It stemmed from yet another move involving the false 9. This time, it was Defederico who was the farthest man forward for the home side but well away from Kolkata’s goal. Khongjee released the Argentine with a defence-splitting aerial ball who controlled it deftly with his left foot and ran straight into the heart of Kolkata’s defence.
His well-placed left-footed shot went past the keeper, Debjit Majumder, and the crowd went bonkers.
The visitor’s attacking performance was a stark contrast to the game they played just two days back against NorthEast United. Against Nelo Vingada’s men, Mumbai’s midfield was playing the game at a pedestrian pace. On numerous instances when Forlan peeled away from his defender, his midfielders choose to keep making parallel passes and slow down the game.
This came about as a result of a lack of options in the advanced midfield position. NorthEast United were never really troubled throughout the match. Their midfielders and defenders had ample time and space to pick and choose their passes.
Against a side that was playing their third match in six days, the home side ought to have taken the game to the visitors.
Against, Atlético de Kolkata, Mumbai showed that they are equally adept at creating goal scoring chances without their main man, Forlan, in the side. Coach Alexandre Guimaraes decided that winning the midfield battle would turn things around worked wonders.
Red card changed the game
Unfortunately for the home side, Pronoy Halder’s overzealous tackle on Borja earned him a second yellow as the received his marching orders in the 71st minute. Mumbai’s players were at their attacking and aggressive best on the night. They ran for every loose ball.
But playing the final 25 minutes with one man down, proved to be a task a tad far beyond their reach. The goal they conceded was as a result of no one closing down Javi Lara.
The Spaniard peeled away from Jackichand from the left wing and had ample time to unleash a shot from outside the box. Fortunately for him, it took a heavy deflection and zipped past the keeper, Volpato.
Alexandre Guimaraes said he was pleased with how the team played and took a lot of positives from the match. The Costa Rican continues to show that he can make his team play slick football despite limited resources at his disposal.
Mumbai are the first side in this season’s Indian Super League to play with a false 9 and it almost payed handsome dividends. We’ll have to wait and watch if the Mumbai coach decides to adopt a similar approach in matches ahead.