The showpiece was decided by a series of individual mistakes amidst some attritional play.

Manchester City FC manager Pep Guardiola was recently asked how his team had strung a brilliant run of performances. The Spaniard did not mince his words and responded, “We have a lot of money to buy a lot of incredible players. It is true. Without good quality players, we cannot do it.” On a different continent, a similar story unfolded with the exception of having its own topsy-turvy journey. Regarded as one of the dominant forces at the start of the season, Mumbai City had brought in former FC Goa head coach Sergio Lobera and his spine of players. Bartholomew Ogbeche arrived from Kerala Blasters, and Adam le Fondre was signed on loan from Sydney FC.

After winning the League Winners’ Shield, Mumbai City won the final 2-1 against perpetual heavyweights ATK Mohun Bagan, who will only have themselves to blame for throwing away the trophy. Let’s break the game down into parts and understand the cores of the finale in detail.  

The first 15…

The match started brightly, with both sides trying to force the issue and take the game to the opposition. They had a shot each in the first five minutes, applying pressure on the opponents’ defence. The defensively resolute ATKMB were playing a low block and Le Fondre’s hold-up play was causing them problems. Le Fondre setup Raynier Fernandes with a cheeky flick in the seventh minute inside Arindam Bhattacharya’s box, but Mumbai’s No. 11 failed to create the magic.

Both teams were playing long balls, and ATKMB were winning most of the second balls due to their physical dominance. Ahmed Jahouh, Mumbai’s physical lynchpin in the middle of the park, played a deeper role for the entirety of the 90. There was a penalty call against ATKMB when Pritam Kotal looked to have forced Bipin Singh to the ground, but the shout was turned down. Last year’s champions may not have controlled a lot of the ball, but certainly did a lot of pressing and continued to inflict tactical fouls to break their opponents’ rhythm.

Pressing that led to ATK MB’s goal
Credits – ISL and Star Sports

Moving on…

In the 18th minute, the pressing worked wonders for the Kolkata giants. The ever-so-hardworking Roy Krishna forced an error from Ahmed Jahouh and David Williams scored in yet another crucial encounter. The blame, however, cannot fall entirely on Jahouh. Mourtada Fall and Amey Ranawade need to take a part of it as well.

The lead wasn’t to stay for too long. In one of the most bizarre goals in the history of ISL finals, Jahouh came up with a long ball, hoping someone would run onto it and so did Bipin Singh. The only hat-trick scorer in this edition of the ISL forced Tiri to head the ball back towards his own keeper, who was not on the same page, or same line to be literally correct. It was a well-placed header that hit the back of the net and Tiri, tragically, hit the ground covering his face. 1-1, game on!

Watch: Tiri scored an own-goal which would later come back to haunt ATKMB

In the 36th minute, Adam le Fondre went for the jugular. Receiving a ball on the right wing, the 34-year-old sent in a cross that would make David Beckham leap off his chair. It had sting, the right pace, the right curl and the right whip. Arindam was left catching thin air, but Bipin narrowly failed to reach it.

ATKMB weren’t one to sit back and with Roy Krishna in the team, both head coaches knew that. A harmless long ball fell to the feet of the Fijian in the 46th minute with two defenders pressing him. He took the ball in his stride and went close to the goal. Just when it looked like the ball would go out due to the incessant pressing, the Golden Ball winner (eventually) conjured up a trick and left both defenders gasping for air. However, all the good work did not help, as he failed to even test Amrinder Singh.

The game was heading to half-time when Subhasish Bose clattered into Amey Ranawade, who fell to the ground and was subsequently taken to hospital. The defender suffered a concussion, but is now stable and under observation.

The whistle blows…

After the restart, both teams were more cautious in their approach. Midfielders were happy to play the ball behind for recycling and the game slowed down a little. Attempts were made from both teams to break down the opposition’s defensive composure, but to no real avail till the 56th minute.

Hugo Boumous, who had had a comparatively out-of-sorts final for a player of his stature until this moment, found some space after Bipin Singh’s smart off-the-ball movement. Boumous ran at ATKMB’s defence, and laid the ball with a hint of bounce into the path of Le Fondre. The English striker looked to have played a pass to Vignesh Dakshinamurthy in the goalkeeper’s line, with Arindam pushing it back to the penalty spot. An onrushing Boumous had the entire goal to aim at, but fluffed his lines and skied it it.  

In the 61st minute, ATKMB had a huge shout for a goal turned down for offside and it will leave some detractors with scope to debate. A ball from Javi Hernandez hit Krishna and went into the back of Amrinder’s net, after taking a massive deflection from Mohd. Rakip, but Krishna was offside. The referee took a timely review and finally delivered his judgement with a raised hand.

ATKMB survived. Maybe there was to be a twist in the tale. Maybe the favourites were to be upsetted.

Run for the unprecedented triple…

The game progressed drama-free. Close balls were fought for with equal tenacity and both teams were looking for spaces to exploit, but it wasn’t to be. It looked like individual brilliance had to come into play to make things happen to break the deadlock or at least, stifle the passive display. The blue-eyed boy of ATKMB came to the rescue in the 72nd minute.

Manvir Singh received a ball on the wide right and ran at defenders, beat two Mumbai City players and pushed a well-weighted delivery into the path of Javi Hernandez, a player who had scored twice in last season’s final. Hernandez threatened Amrinder with a rasping first-time drive that had zip and power. The Indian goalkeeper parried it onto the bar and out for a corner. A breather for the favourites!

Error that led to a title…

And then, another howler unfurled in the 89th minute. Bartholomew Ogbeche, who had come off the bench, had had no real impact on the game until then. He was chasing a lost cause, a long ball from deep that was well covered by both Tiri and Sandesh Jhingan.

Watch: Bipin Singh’s winner against ATK Mohun Bagan in ISL 2020-21 final

Arindam, the goalkeeper, came out, failed to collect the ball only for Ogbeche to steal it. The defence seemed to have it covered until the Mumbai No. 10 dodged a player with a smart touch and an onrushing Bipin Singh placed it in the left bottom corner to conform this headline.

The whistle blew and Mumbai City won their first title in seven years, as ATKMB threw away chances to have three of their own. We witnessed a Shakespeare’s play as well as an engrossing football game. Hope you had fun this season.

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