The Islanders have established a five-point lead at the top with the win on Monday.
Can we call the league stage over already? Yes. The gulf of class was on show yet again as a dominant Mumbai City FC side steamrolled holders ATK Mohun Bagan in a ‘battle of heavyweights,’ opening a five-point gap at the top of the Indian Super League table. In a game characterized by Hugo Boumous’ ominous runs through midfield and some brilliant footwork, ATKMB started on the defensive and played most of the first half in a 6-3-1 shape, with the wingers forced to fall back to help the backline.
Such was the terror and persistent nature of Mumbai’s attacks that Manvir Singh was seen beside Pritam Kotal for most of the first half, the only 45 minutes he played. City pushed, without fear of counter-attacks, a ploy used to extreme perfection by the gritty Antonio Lopez Habas. However, ATKMB weren’t helped by the fact that Mourtada Fall made almost no mistakes in marking the sharp shooter from Fiji.
Make no mistake; the 1-0 score line doesn’t justify the story. It should have been at least a couple more for Mumbai and one for the Kolkata side too. Both defences fought resolutely and the quality of football lived up to its billing. Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri fought like warriors, but the free-flowing nature of Mumbai City’s attacks and the dynamic positioning of their attackers were a little too much for the positionally-resolute ATK Mohun Bagan.
Boumous may have been without his partner-in-crime Ahmed Jahouh, but still bossed the midfield and created chances at regular intervals. After a weaving run from the centre circle to just outside the box, he played a one-two with Hernan Santana and inside the box, laid down a well-weighted heel to Bartholomew Ogbeche to slot it past Arindam Bhattacharya with a curling effort. Bhattacharya had a field day, and on several occasions, it was his heroics that saved the day for his club.
With 61% possession, Mumbai had more of the ball than it would’ve imagined and with a passing accuracy of 78% compared to 62% of ATKMB, were meaner when delivering it. The losing side clearly missed the services of their war-hero-like servant Carl McHugh, with Glan Martins clearly struggling to live up to the pacy needs.
On the other hand, Sergio Lobera has a characteristic style and the way he has mobilized his players to play that style is impressive. Shifting pivot from Lenny Rodrigues to Rowllin Borges might have been easy, but getting an unheralded Amey Ranawade to play similar to Seriton Fernandes takes a lot of hard work and confidence, something both the coach and his cadet have shown in immense. Some of the passes that Borges played to find Bipin Singh and Ranawade were at a different level altogether, showing the confidence the coach has instilled these players with.
As it stands, Mumbai City FC are running away with the league-stage trophy and an ACL spot. ATKMB were the league’s best bet to open it up, but they fell well short of a real challenge. Habas needs to know that sitting deep won’t help defending against sides like MCFC; he needs to press them hard into their area and force them into making mistakes. Taking a leaf out of Jose Mourinho’s book is easy; playing it to the T is a really difficult job. ATKMB’s head coach learnt it the hard way Monday night.