The Islanders will be looking to take the league by storm with the solid squad they have put together in the summer.
Mumbai City FC head into the seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) as a significantly strengthened unit. The Islanders made major changes to their setup after the City Football Group (CFG) takeover. The metropolis club oversaw a squad overhaul, change of coaching staff and other alterations.
They have had a very underwhelming run in the league so far, having qualified for the playoffs only twice in six seasons. However, given the investment they made in the off-season, failure does not seem to be an option for the management anymore. The team will be raring to go right from the start, as their moves will be closely followed and scrutinized in the forthcoming campaign. In this article, Khel Now comprehensively previews the Islanders ahead of ISL 2020-21.
Last Season’s Performance: Fifth
Mumbai City FC had a middling campaign last time around, as Jorge Costa’s men missed out on a top four spot due to a defeat on the final matchday against Chennaiyin FC. The team failed to deliver the goods against the top teams, barring their twin victories against Bengaluru FC.
They looked set to make it to the semi-finals after a victory against Jamshedpur FC in early February. However, FC Goa thrashed Costa’s men 5-2 at the Fatorda and then former skipper Lucian Goian returned to the Mumbai Football Arena to score a late winner to take Chennaiyin to the playoffs. Yet, one can argue that Costa managed to extract the optimum potential from the squad that he had at his disposal.
The CFG-owned outfit appointed Sergio Lobera as the head coach, while Jesus Tato and Anthony Fernandes will be his deputies. Manuel Sayabera and Juan Maria Cruz Arias are the conditioning and goalkeeping coaches respectively.
Tato and Sayabera were a part of Lobera’s staff at FC Goa, whereas the Spaniard has worked with Arias at Moroccan club Moghreb Tetouan.
Like all teams, Mumbai City FC are holding their pre-season training in Goa this time. Though several virtual preparatory meetings were held in the last few months, Sergio Lobera conducted his first on-field training session on October 28. On November 2, the Islanders defeated Chennaiyin FC in a friendly encounter by a 1-0 margin as Adam Le Fondre netted the winner for Lobera’s men. Furthermore, the team is slated to play matches against Bengaluru FC and Odisha FC (on November 10) ahead of the commencement of the campaign.
Mumbai City FC were very active in the transfer market in the last 7-8 months. They recruited a whole new set of foreigners and some promising domestic talents too. Moreover, they released numerous individuals in order to completely overhaul and upgrade the quality of players on the roster.
The Islanders paid a record transfer fee to acquire the services of FC Goa talisman Hugo Boumous. Furthermore, they roped in a couple of stellar strikers in Adam le Fondre and Bartholomew Ogbeche. The team have added some incredible depth in midfield by bringing in players like Hernan Santana, Ahmed Jahouh and Cy Goddard to the setup. In Mourtada Fall, they have possibly found a replacement for Lucian Goian in the backline too.
In terms of Indians, the club signed key players like Mandar Rao Dessai and Farukh Choudhary. Mohamad Rakip will strengthen the team’s full-back department. They also inducted promising ex-Indian Arrows attacker Vikram Partap Singh to the roster. Mehtab Singh and Amey Ranawade will be banked on to provide depth in the defensive unit, whereas Phurba Lachenpa will be the second-choice goalkeeper behind Amrinder Singh. Full-back Tondonba Singh has been roped in by the Islanders from Chennaiyin FC and he will be looked at as an alternative to Dessai in the left-back slot.
Pratik Choudhari shifted allegiances to Bengaluru FC, while Subhasish Bose joined ATK Mohun Bagan in a mega multi-year deal. Notable international stars such as Paulo Machado, Modou Sougou and Diego Carlos have not been retained. Furthermore, none of the overseas players from the previous campaign are associated with Mumbai City FC anymore. Other domestic players such as Anwar AIi Jr. and Mohammed Rafique have been released by the club too.
Goalkeepers: Amrinder Singh, Nishit Shetty, Phurba Lachenpa, Vikram Singh
Defenders: Amey Ranawade, Valpuia, Mandar Rao Dessai, Mehtab Singh, Mohamad Rakip, Tondonba Singh, Sarthak Golui, Mourtada Fall
Midfielders: Ahmed Jahouh, Bidyananda Singh, Bipin Singh, Cy Goddard, Farukh Choudhary, Hernan Santana, Hugo Boumous, Asif Khan, Pranjal Bhumij, Raynier Fernandes, Rowllin Borges, Sourav Das, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, Vikram Partap Singh
Forwards: Bartholomew Ogbeche, Adam le Fondre
Formation and Tactics
This formation allows Lobera to accommodate both his top strikers together and slot Hugo Boumous right behind them. Ahmed Jahouh and Rowllin Borges will look to share the defensive workload, whereas Raynier Fernandes will try to collaborate with Boumous to supply decisive passes in the final third.
The defence pretty much picks itself, though Rakip and Mandar could be left a bit isolated on the flanks in this setup. The duo will have to astutely manage their defensive and offensive duties, probably suppressing their attacking instincts a bit.
Lobera preferred this formation during his time at FC Goa. Here, Ogbeche makes way for Cy Goddard, who will take up the right wing slot. Farukh Choudhary or Vikram Partap Singh can possibly play on the left flank, as Le Fondre will be the sole striker upfront.
Boumous will inter-link the midfield to the forward line, while Rowlin Borges and Jahouh will provide some robust defensive cover. The backline remains the same as in the previous lineup.
In this formation, Hernan Santana joins Borges and Jahouh to form a three-man midfield. Boumous will play on the left wing whereas either Bipin Singh or Farukh will operate from the right. Le Fondre will probably start ahead of Ogbeche when the tactician has to choose only one of them. At the heart of the back four, Mehtab Singh can be an alternative to Sarthak Golui. Otherwise, the rest of the rearguard remains the same.
- The management recruited multiple prominent international players who have already proven their mettle in Indian football. These players like Ahmed Jahouh, Hugo Boumous, Mourtada Fall and Bartholomew Ogbeche are well-acquainted with the demands of the ISL and can seamlessly slot into Lobera’s lineup.
- With the addition of Farukh Choudhary and Vikram Partap Singh, they have added some domestic depth to the forward line.
- There is some incredible variety in midfield. The likes of Jahouh and Borges promise to add steel and dynamism to the middle of the park. Hernan Santana and Cy Goddard can prove to be credible alternatives, while Raynier Fernandes can look to take some constructive strides under the tutelage of Sergio Lobera.
Lobera had thrived at FC Goa by playing the international duo of Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena at the heart of the backline. However, Mumbai only have one foreign defender in their ranks this time around. The team could become over-dependent on their Indian players in the backline. The likes of Golui, Amey Ranawade and Mehtab Singh will be expected to shoulder the majority of the responsibility as centre-backs, along with Fall. In place of either Santana or Goddard, Mumbai could have maybe roped in another overseas defender.
They could probably have a problem of plenty in midfield, considering that many individuals will be competing to grab hold of a coveted few spots. This can create some healthy competition in the squad. However, sometimes it can put the coach in a spot of bother whilst picking the ideal playing XI in a relatively short competition like the ISL.
Players to Watch
Boumous’ big-money switch to Mumbai City FC will attract all the attention. His performances are set to be dissected more than ever. Being the incumbent ‘Golden Ball’ winner, the French-Moroccan will be relied on to live up to his high standards on the pitch.
The 25-year-old stands at the brink of a defining period in his playing career. Maybe, fantastic outings for the City Football Group-owned franchise can take him to other teams that fall under the holding company’s umbrella.
Adam le Fondre
Ferran Corominas’ incredible goalscoring touch was vital to Lobera’s success at Goa. The coach will need Adam le Fondre to replicate that impact for Mumbai in the coming season.
Aged 33, the Englishman arrives in India after scoring 39 goals in 57 matches for Sydney FC in the A-League. With Ogbeche breathing down his neck, he will need to be raring to go from the onset.
Rowllin Borges became the mainstay in midfield for Mumbai in his debut season for the club last time around. Accompanied by Jahouh, Borges will be integral to linking the team’s defence to the forward line.
His robust defensive methods coupled with a fine passing acumen makes him an ideal man to marshal the troops in the middlle of the park. Furthermore, Lobera can possibly look to enhance Borges’ skills and optimize his potential for the Islanders.
What to Expect
Nothing less than the ISL trophy or the league-winners shield will arguably fulfill Mumbai City FC’s expectations in the 2020-21 season. They have invested significant capital to build a formidable squad.
Lobera will have to get his act straight right from the beginning, as there’s no room for either complacency or failure for the Islanders this time around.