The Islanders will hope to overcome their shortcomings from a disappointing ISL 2021-22 campaign.

Mumbai City will go up against Saudi Professional League giants Al-Shabab on Matchday 1 of the AFC Champions League group stages on 8th April. The matches will be held in Riyadh and the group also consists of UAE’s Al Jazira and three-time AFC Cup winners Air Force Club of Iraq. Although Al-Jazira and Al-Shabab sit in third and fourth places in their leagues respectively, this group resembles a snakepit for the Islanders. If they are to qualify for the playoffs, they must replicate their title-winning form from last season. 

Al-Shabab themselves have a rich AFC Champions League history and have made it to the knockout stages six times. These appearances include one semi-final (2010) and two quarter-finals (2006, 2013). With capable playmakers and goalscorers among them, Mumbai City manager Des Buckingham will have the daunting task to figure out their Achilles’ Heel.

Let’s take a look at Al-Shabab and what Mumbai City must be prepared for when they enter the fray in a week:

Recent Performances

Al-Shabab
Al-Shabab are currently fourth in the Saudi Pro League (Courtesy: Instagram/@alshababsaudifc)

Al-Shabab are still competing in the ongoing Saudi Pro League. Their last match ended in a 2-2 draw with Al-Ta’ee. In doing so, they bounced back from a 2-0 loss to table-toppers Al-Ittihad. However, they still hold a comfortable five-point lead over fifth-placed side Damac. Their next match is the semi-final of the prestigious King Cup against giants Al-Hilal. The Saudi side’s last league victory had a whopping 4-0 margin, so that should surely be a warning for Mumbai City. 

About The Team

Riyadh’s first-ever football club sits fourth in the Saudi Professional League this season, after amassing 47 points from 25 matches. Apart from that, the outfit also boast of having experienced and world-class players in their ranks like Ever Banega, Luciano Vietto, and Alfred N’Diaye. 

The six-time league winners have a host of other titles to flaunt. They have won the Arab Champions League, Arab Super Cup, and Gulf Club Champions Cup twice. They’ve also been three-time winners of the Saudi King Cup and Crown Prince Cup tournaments. It doesn’t end there as the White Lions have also won the Asian Cup Winners’ Cup and Saudi Super Cup once each. They are also ranked 10th in the AFC Club Rankings table, with 30.537 points.

The Coach

Marius Sumudica
Sumudica returned to Al-Shabab for a third stint as manager earlier this month (Courtesy: Instagram/@alshababsaudifc)

Former Romanian international Marius Sumudica retook the reigns of the Al Leith after he had led them to a fifth-place finish in the 2018-19 season. He had a 51% win record from his last season, having managed 17 wins out of 33 matches.

The 51-year-old fields a mix of the 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formations, his sides typically like to hoard possession and see plenty of the ball. Even in their loss to Al-Ittihad this season, they had a generous 56% possession and completed 86% of their passes.  

Sumudica’s stints at Romanian clubs Rocar Bucuresti and CFR Cluj were also notable achievements. He had an impressive 64% and 60% win record with them. His stints in Greece and Turkey were not as rewarding and that saw him return to the Saudi league with his former team.

Players to Watch

Ever Banega

Ever Banega
Banega joined Al-Shabab last season from Sevilla (Courtesy: Instagram/@alshababsaudifc)

Al-Shabab are immensely fortunate to have someone as experienced and world-class as the former Inter Milan and Sevilla maestro. For the manager, it is a boon to have such a composed playmaker leading his side, especially since the style of football is possession-centric. The Argentine has a fellow national teammate in Luciano Vietto in the ranks. But has been more influential than the forward. His six goals and five assists eclipse the five goals and four assists of the former Atletico Madrid and Villarreal winger.  

The 33-year-old has been massively influential for the team, as he has impacted 80% of his team’s assists and 33% of their goals. He has also helped his team to get seven clean-sheets, as he often tracks back and provides defensive cover for his teammates. 

Carlos

The 26-year-old Carlos Carvalho is the primary benefactor of the treasure trove of chances created by Al-Shabab’s playmakers. The Brazilian striker has 10 goals in only 19 appearances and has made a name for being one of the most lethal finishers in the Saudi Pro League.

He has three assists as well and is not shy to setup his teammates. Though he ranks ninth in the Golden Boot charts, he is the top scorer for Al-Shabab and surely a player to watch out for. 

Moteb Al-Harbi

Moteb Al-Harbi
Al-Harbi has assisted four goals this season (Courtesy: Instagram/@alshababsaudifc)

The young left-back has one goal and four assists this season and is a threat down the flanks. Although he has an aggressive style, evidenced by the six yellow cards, he draws twice as many fouls.

Statistics reveal that the ratio is 1:2 for the same, since he committed nine fouls and drew 18. Mumbai City have suffered in matches where teams prey on their weakness on the flanks. Al-Harbi would look to exploit that once again.  

What to Expect

Al-Shabab are all geared up to take the fight to Mumbai City. However, the Islanders should not retreat into a defensive shape. They have shown that scoring goals is a natural attribute. The Islanders scored four or more goals in three different matches last season. Mumbai must take the game to them and combat their possession-based style of play with a hybrid of the same and some counter-attacking football.  

Des Buckingham’s men have had quite a long break to plug the gaps in defence and revamp their playing style. They must follow that up with a solid result, if they are to make good progress in this difficult group.

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