On the 15th of December, Mumbai City FC travelled to the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, hoping to resurrect a faltering season. At that juncture, the Islanders had only accumulated 7 points from as many games and were slated to lock horns against an outfit that hadn’t shipped in a single goal at home during the 2019-20 season of the ISL.
Over the course of the next couple of hours of football though, Mumbai had managed to blemish Bengaluru FC’s spotless record at home and they achieved it with panache, meaning that they didn’t just ensure a victory but also signified that the side had finally come of age in the current term.
Four days later, the Islanders rocked up at the Furnace and produced an accomplished performance to edge past Jamshedpur FC. In the process, the western outfit had notched up consecutive wins for the first time in the campaign while they also got themselves level on points in fourth spot.
Consequently, Mumbai had completed a remarkable turnaround of sorts, not because they’d managed to pick up a brace of positive results but also due to them emerging from the rubble in tight situations.
On the 29th of December though, unfortunate circumstances nearly undid their good work, especially when Sarthak Golui was issued his marching orders in the 67th minute. Yet, akin to the steel they showcased in Jamshedpur, they ground out a result, despite enduring numerical inferiority.
Thus, one couldn’t help but ask the facets that had changed over the past fortnight, aspects that had spearheaded a sparkling winning sequence. And, though one might point towards the Islanders enjoying the marginal rub of the green as opposed to their earlier fixtures, another case could be made for the side’s suitability to preach a slightly counter-attacking brand of football, a style that often relies on waiting for the right opportunity to pounce rather than fervently searching for it.
The Islanders’ opening game of the season saw them clash swords with the Kerala Blasters at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. The pair played out an engaging encounter with the visitors portraying the adequate amount of composure on the break to eventually seal a 1-0 triumph.
Thereafter, the outfit’s sticky patch began with a string of defeats at home. On the 31st of December, they were outplayed by Odisha whereas they were drubbed by an identical 4-2 score-line when FC Goa came calling, a week later.
While in the contest against the Gaurs, they understandably enjoyed only a third of the ball, they had the lion’s share of possession against Josep Gombau’s men, 57% to be precise.
Yet, on both occasions, they seemed more potent whenever they attacked the opposition in quick transitional situations. Moreover, their intention of playing on the front foot fell flat, considering both Goa and Odisha were able to pass their first line of press quite comfortably.
In the succeeding couple of fixtures, at Guwahati and Kolkata, they had the ball for 60% and 54% of the time respectively, although they couldn’t get over the finish line. And, while they certainly shot themselves in the foot with a couple of elementary errors, they certainly didn’t look as menacing in possession.
And, against Bengaluru, the potential watershed moment trudged along. In the opening 45 minutes, the Islanders had the defending champions on strings, especially with the pace of Bipin Singh and Modou Sougou on the flanks. Additionally, Amine Chermiti was causing a nuisance in and around the penalty box, meaning that the Blues had to get through the first half by the skin of their teeth.
During that match, Mumbai had waited for the hosts to set up the game, invited them forward and then caught them with the proverbial sucker punch. More impressively though, they seemed well-drilled defensively and forced the defending champions to dance to their tunes. Unsurprisingly, when the Blues ventured too far forward, the visitors were on hand to hurt them.
Even against Jamshedpur, the Islanders were content to let the home side enjoy the majority of possession. Subsequently, they waited for their moments and capitalized on them optimally, thereby leaving the hosts devoid of ideas.
On the 29th of December though, the dynamics were a tad different, considering Mumbai had had a defender sent off. Yet, even in the first half of that encounter, they waited for Hyderabad FC to foray into areas which would actually play into the Islanders’ hands, meaning that the former wasn’t able to recover when the latter unleashed the raw pace of Diego Carlos, Serge Kevyn and Sougou.
The second goal against Hyderabad embodied the approach to the tee when Bidyananda Singh expertly picked out the Senegalese, who got clear of the visitors’ high defensive line before clipping the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper.
Thus, through the course of the past few games, Mumbai have highlighted that they probably might be a little better off operating on the counter-attack. And, while there does exist a relation between their dire form early in the season and the number of injuries at that point, a couple of campaigns is a fair reflection of the kind of football that fits the players at Jorge Costa’s disposal.
Having said that though, there might not be a pressing need for the Islanders to play archaic football or showcase the 20th century football Costa’s mentor, Jose Mourinho often cribs about. At this juncture, it just seems their fortunes could continue charting an upward trajectory provided they rely on their strengths and not try to be someone else.
After all, ever since the Portuguese’s arrival, the Islanders have carved out an identity for themselves, one which boasts tons of doggedness, fortitude, tenacity and above all, intelligence.
And, though the general norm of attractive football spells otherwise, Mumbai wouldn’t really pay too much heed to those notions, as long as a maiden ISL crown gets credited to their trophy cabinet.Published 31 Dec 2019, 16:57 IST