The Mariners will look to settle for anything but a loss.
After 109 matches spanning across more than four months, we are down to this. The deserving claimant of the Indian Super League (ISL) leaders will be decided in the final match of the league stage. Initially, Mumbai City FC looked all set to run away with the top spot, but ATK Mohun Bagan gradually caught up and eventually turned the tables spectacularly. However, another twist ensued in the last few days and now we are down to the final showdown at the GMC Stadium on 28th February.
It doesn’t get bigger than this. Two teams, well ahead of the rest in the competition, fighting off each other until the final whistle to book a maiden berth in the AFC Champions League.
The Islanders and the Mariners have played a notch or two better than the rest of the teams for the majority of the campaign. The two teams have been battling it out in a mini-contest of their own at the top of the standings. Now is the time to land the final blow. The equation is pretty simple. Mumbai will qualify for the continental championship with a victory. ATKMB take the cake with any other result.
Both Sergio Lobera and Antonio Lopez Habas must be ruing over failing to avoid such a precarious situation. The two teams had ample opportunities to create further distance between each other that could have stripped the forthcoming encounter of its significance. However, such is the nature of the competition that the winner of the topmost prize will be figured out only in the final game of the campaign.
Maybe, that’s what both these teams deserve too. They have been peerless at times, unconvincing at others; optimized opportunities on occasion but also failed to capitalize on some. They have been incredible, but also humanely mediocre on instances. All in all, they have managed to separate themselves from the rest of the nine teams in the competition, but not from each other.
Mumbai City won their first match against ATK Mohun Bagan in January this year. Otherwise, the erstwhile ATK had faced the Islanders on 14 occasions. Both the teams had won five games each, whereas four encounters had resulted in a draw.
Mumbai City: Amrinder (GK); Ranawade, Fall, Mehtab, Mandar; Rowllin, Jahouh; Goddard, Ogbeche, Bipin; Le Fondre.
ATK Mohun Bagan: Arindam (GK); Kotal, Jhingan, Tiri, Subhasish; Lenny, McHugh, Javi; Manvir, Williams, Krishna.
Man to Watch
Bipin Singh (Mumbai City)
Bipin Singh’s terrific emergence under the tutelage of Lobera was never in doubt. But, he put forth a solid testament of the same in the must-win encounter against Odisha FC. The skillful winger coupled his silky footwork and blazing pace with some smart movements inside the penalty box to notch his maiden hat-trick. The 25-year-old has also developed a sense of innate composure in and around the 18-yard area.
He has scored five goals and assisted four others in 18 appearances this season. In Hugo Boumous’ absence, Lobera will be reliant on Bipin to call the shots in the forward line and breakdown the Mariners’ tightly-knit defensive setup. The winger gave clear evidence of his improvement in the last game. Now, he will be encountered by perhaps his toughest challenge this season, making him the individual to watch out for from Mumbai City.
Carl McHugh (ATK Mohun Bagan)
Carl McHugh has been a revelation for ATK Mohun Bagan this season and he will be crucial to their chances against Mumbai too. The Irishman has recorded 5.52 tackles, 1.52 interceptions, two clearances and 2.05 blocks per game this season. He has also assisted twice, but his major contributions have been in defending resolutely in the middle of the park.
Majority of Mumbai’s attacking gameplay flows from Ahmed Jahouh. However, the Moroccan has shown a tendency to be reckless at times, if he is consciously followed by the opposition. He committed a similarly avoidable foul to gift Odisha a spot-kick in the previous game. Now, it will be upon McHugh to particularly restrict Jahouh’s influence on proceedings.
Did You Know?
- Ahmed Jahouh has recorded 136 tackles this season, the most by any player.
- ATK Mohun Bagan (10) and Mumbai City FC (8) have kept the most number of clean sheets in the league.
- Rowllin Borges has completed 1034 passes in this campaign, the highest by any Indian player.
The match between Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan is set to be telecast live on Star Sports 1 SD & HD, Star Sports 2 SD & HD (English), Star Sports Hindi 1 SD & HD, Star Sports 3 and several other regional languages. Live streaming of the match will be available on Hotstar and Jio TV.