The Islanders won their maiden league title in the previous season and will be aiming to replicate the success once again.
The seventh edition of the Indian Super League saw Mumbai City FC win the League Winners’ Shield as well as the ISL trophy. The Islanders remained unbeaten in 16 of their 20 league stage games in ISL 2020-21, overcame a tough challenge from FC Goa in the semi-finals and then beat ATK Mohun Bagan in the final. But afterwards, they went through some changes ahead of the upcoming season. They have parted ways with a few footballers and have also brought in some fresh legs to bolster their squad.
Most importantly, they made a new managerial appointment just a month before the start of the ISL. Sitting at the zenith, the City Football Group owned club is expected to undergo a tough season ahead as they will be aiming to defend their title and continue their dominance. There is also the challenge of the AFC Champions League (ACL) 2021 at the end of the season.
Last Season’s Performance: Champions (League Winners’ Shield and Trophy)
It was a dream come true for the Islanders when they lifted their first-ever Indian Super League Trophy on March 13, 2021. The foundation of the success began November 2019, when City Football Group bought 65% stakes in the club. As the summer transfer window (2020) opened, they started showing their calibre by bringing in a new coach and able footballers, creating a mighty team.
They signed Sergio Lobera as their new head coach and brought quite a number of stars from FC Goa. Hugo Boumous, Ahmed Jahouh, Mourtada Fall and Mandar Rao Dessai consisted of a remarkable team with immense squad depth.
In ISL 2020-21, the Islanders won 12 matches, drew four and lost as many. They scored the most number of goals (35) and conceded 18. In the playoffs, the Mumbai-based outfit had a tough time against FC Goa, but fortunately turned the tables in their favour in the penalty shootout in the second leg. In the final, they defeated ATK Mohun Bagan 2-1, with Bipin Singh scoring the winning goal on the 90th minute. Throughout the tournament, the club played an extremely pleasing brand of football.
Mumbai City FC started their on-field training sessions in the second week of October under first team assistant coach Anthony Fernandes. Their newly-appointed head coach, Des Buckingham took charge a few days later.
The Islanders had four pre-season friendlies scheduled against Hyderabad FC (October 31), Jamshedpur FC (November 4), Odisha FC (November 9) and SC East Bengal (November 14). In their first friendly, Mumbai City defeated Hyderabad FC 2-1 as Igor Angulo and Gurkirat Singh got their names on the scorecard for the Islanders. The second pre-season friendly against Jamshedpur FC was called off due to poor weather and unsafe playing conditions. Their third friendly against Odisha FC ended in a goalless draw.
The Islanders have had comparatively less time to prepare ahead of the next season and that may be a sign of caution for the defending champions; keeping in mind they also have a new coach on board.
It was a shock when Mumbai City FC announced the departure of Sergio Lobera. Lobera had won both the League Winners’ Shield and the ISL trophy for the Mumbai-based outfit. Under his guidance, the team displayed a beautiful brand of football. The club brought in a new head coach in Des Buckingham, who had won the A-League Trophy and the Premiership Plate for another CFG-owned club, Melbourne City FC last season.
Just 36, Buckingham possesses a brilliant resume. He has spent most of his career in Australia, working as an assistant coach in clubs like Melbourne City FC and Wellington Phoenix. During his tenure at Wellington Phoenix, he went on to become the youngest head coach of the A-League when Ernie Merrick resigned. Apart from the A-League, the Englishman has also plied his trade at the Premier League for Stoke City as the assistant coach to their U-23 team. He has also worked at the New Zealand national team. He was the head coach of the U-23 team of the country and an assistant coach to the senior team.
Under his tutelage, the New Zealand U-20 side reached the round-of-16 of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2019. In the process, they defeated teams like Honduras (5-0) and Norway (2-0), where Erling Haaland played. In 2020, he was awarded with the New Zealand Football Men’s Coach of the Year award.
At Mumbai City, Buckingham has a few others to assist him as well.
Assistant Coach: Hiroshi Miyawaza
Indian Assistant Coach: Anthony Fernandes
Strengthening and Conditioning Coach: Danny Deigan
Goalkeeping Coach: David Coles
After winning the ISL 2020-21 League Winners’ Shield and the championship, Mumbai City parted ways with the likes of Hugo Boumous, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Adam Le Fondre and a few others who were an integral part of them. They have also brought in some fresh legs to bolster their squad, including a set of very interesting overseas players.
The Islanders have brought in a few Indian and foreign signings. Most importantly, they have secured the signatures of Lalengmawia ‘Apuia’ Ralte on a record transfer fee. They were in need of a goalkeeper after Amrinder Singh left, and signed Mohammad Nawaz from FC Goa.
Right back Huidrom Naocha Singh and forward Gurkirat Singh have also joined the Indian contingent. Apart from them, foreign stars like Bradden Inman, Ygor Catatau and Cassio Gabriel have joined the squad.
A few important footballers left Mumbai City FC ahead of this season. Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh and midfielder Hugo Boumous joined ATK Mohun Bagan. Striker Bartholomew Ogbeche joined Hyderabad FC and their highest goal-scorer Adam Le Fondre returned to his parent club Sydney FC after his loan stint with the Islanders came to an end.
Apart from these names, the club has sent winger Jackichand Singh out on loan to SC East Bengal.
Goalkeepers: Mohammad Nawaz, Phurba Lachenpa, Vikram Lakhbir Singh
Defenders: Amey Ranawade, Valpuia Hmingthanmawia, Huidrom Naocha Singh, Mandar Rao Dessai, Mehtab Singh, Mohamad Rakip, Rahul Bheke, Mourtada Fall, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy
Midfielders: Ahmed Jahouh, Cassio Gabriel, Bradden Inman, Lalengmawia ‘Apuia’ Ralte, Raynier Fernandes, Rowllin Borges, Tondonba Singh, Asif Khan, Chanso Horam
Forwards: Igor Angulo, Bipin Singh, Gurkirat Singh, Vikram Partap Singh, Pranjal Bhumij, Ygor Catatau
As Mumbai City FC have a new head coach this season, it will be tough to predict their ideal formation. However, according to the squad they possess, the Islanders can field their team in a 4-3-3 formation.
Mohammad Nawaz will start under the sticks. It will be a four-man backline with Mourtada Fall and Mehtab Singh playing as the centre-backs while Amey Ranawade and Mandar Rao Dessai take up the roles of right and left back. The midfield trio would comprise Ahmed Jahouh and Apuia in the middle with Cassio Gabriel adding strength to the attacking third.
The wing-forwards would be Bipin Singh on the left and either Gurkirat Singh or Vikram Pratap Singh on the right with Igor Angulo playing as the striker.
This can be considered as an alternate formation to the one previously mentioned. Mohammad Nawaz will once again take up the role of the goalkeeper, with a defence line consisting Mohamad Rakip, Mourtada Fall, Rahul Bheke and Mandar Rao Dessai.
Ahmed Jahouh and Raynier Fernandes are expected make a double pivot in front of the defence. Bradden Inman is expected to become the No. 10 while Bipin and Vikram Pratap are deployed on the flanks. Igor Angulo is expected to spearhead the team in attack in this particular formation.
The team has a brilliant balance. They have rectified most of the positions in which they were lacking. They have prolific goal-getters upfront and an extremely efficient supply line. The best part about the team is that they possess quality in terms of backup options for every footballer on the pitch. New stars like Apuia and Igor Angulo only make the squad look more dangerous.
The Islanders have appointed a new head coach. Although it doesn’t count as a weakness but this may have a negative effect on the team in the first few matches. Added to this, Mumbai City FC have had a shorter pre-season compared to their league rivals and many integral players have left the club – which could have an inverse effect on them.
While the club has signed replacements for outgoing players, question remains on the new signings could fill in the boots of their predecessors. Whether the likes of Ygor Catatau, Cassio Gabriel or Bradden Inman be able to live up to the expectations will only be known when the ball starts rolling.
Key Players to Watch
The 37-year-old Spanish centre-forward had bagged the Golden Boot in the previous season. A terrific poacher, Igor Angulo went on to score 14 goals in 21 matches for FC Goa last season. This season, the colours may be different but the objective would be the same for the talismanic striker.
The defender had been a rock at the back for the Islanders last season. In his first season at Mumbai City FC, Fall committed 50 tackles and made 30 interceptions, 133 clearances and 34 blocks. Added to his defensive abilities, his penchant to score goals. The 6’3″ Senegalese centre back registered four goals for the Islanders in the previous season.
The 21-year-old won the Emerging Player of the Season award in the 2020-21 season at NorthEast United for his brilliant display throughout the season. He became the youngest-ever captain in the ISL at the age of 20, when he was given the armband last season. Following a record-breaking transfer, Apuia is expected to guard the defensive fortress along side Ahmed Jahouh and add quality and depth to a refurbished Mumbai City side.
What to Expect
The expectations will be high in the Mumbai City FC camp. No other team in the ISL has been able to defend its title to-date. The Islanders are expected to give their best to break this record.
Through their exemplary performance, Mumbai had been able to score numerous goals in the previous campaign. The fans will be expecting the team to go all guns blazing this time as well. Apart from these, how the new head coach makes the team operate will be something to look out for. Will it be the same as last year? Or will there be a change in approach? All questions will be answered as they begin their campaign on November 22.