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Tactical Analysis: Mumbai City and FC Goa collide in ISL playoffs

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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The clash will see a battle between two contrasting philosophies with both managers having learned their trade from two of Europe's best.

The fifth season of the Indian Super League has seen a revival of sorts for two sides, that have seen their fortunes resurrected under bosses who have used the players at their disposal in the best possible manner. Mumbai City, after the arrival of Jorge Costa, have looked a different side. They face the burgeoning talent of Sergio Lobera, who’s time and again known to be the flagbearer of attacking football in the Indian Super League.

The defensive rigidity was never lacking for the Islanders, but the team looked to have run out of ideas under former head coach Alexander Guimaraes during last season, ending in a meek seventh position. Goa, meanwhile, reached the playoffs, riding on the heroics of Manuel Lanzarote and Ferran Corominas, but were thwarted by an all-conquering Chennaiyin FC side, that went on to lift the title.

Khel Now brings you a tactical analysis of the two sides that will face each other in the first leg of the playoffs on the 9th of March at the Mumbai Football Arena.

Mumbai City FC

This season, Mumbai have played a game that has seen their fortunes change. Led by the disciplined style of Lucian Goian to shield the backline, the team has seen Modou Sougou, Rafael Bastos, Paulo Machado and Arnold Issoko play key roles in their attacking ideology. They have played a fluid possession-based style with swift transition from defence to attack and that has helped them break a lot of opposition lines.

The Indian contingent, led by the talented Subhasish Bose, hasn’t taken too many wrong decisions on the field. The safe insurance of Souvik Chakraborty, too, down the right flank, has helped Costa allow Issoko to go on free runs and that has helped the mentality of his attackers. On his day, Sougou can run through any back four, ask ATK and Kerala Blasters.

The Senegalese scored a hat-trick against the Kolkata outfit and did one better against the team from the southern coast of the country. He will have to be kept in check and his runs behind the defenders can be a pain in the neck for a lot of quality opposition.

Jorge Costa has built a very disciplined team, based on a fluid possession style with swift transition from defence to attack



In the midfield, Raynier Fernandes, Machado and Sehnaj Singh hold the key against Edu Bedia, Corominas’ creator-in-chief and partner-in-crime. Controlling Bedia would give control of Goa’s attacking midfield, an area that the Gaurs usually dominate. Defensively, Mumbai have been sound, conceding just 20 times in 18 games - second only to NorthEast United.

Talking about their system on the pitch, Costa has time and again switched between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3, giving both Bastos and Issoko enough freedom to use the space that Sougou keeps finding behind defenders. Machado, meanwhile, has threaded through-passes, throwing opposition defences in jeopardy. For the playoffs, the Portuguese can be expected to go with the 4-3-3 attacking system, in which both Sehnaj and Raynier will look to add steel to the midfield.

The defence would look the same, with Goian and Anwar Ali taking their positions as center-backs. In the full-back positions, Chakraborty and Bose can be expected to start. With Raynier adding a layer of passing to the no-nonsense clean-up work of Sehnaj, the team can be expected to field a four-pronged attack up top, with all foreigners. Machado, meanwhile, will continue to play the link between attack and midfield and Sougou, Issoko and Bastos attempt to wreak havoc both down the wings and centrally.

FC Goa

If there’s one side that has entertained a lot and frustrated its fans at times, it has to be Goa. Marshaled by the heart-on-his-sleeve attitude of Sergio Lobera, Goa look like a club from Spain at times – such has been their obsession with possession. The players have continued to pass the ball around for long periods in their own half on several occasions throughout the season and the manager would need to turn that into something more meaningful, if they are to eke out a result against Mumbai away from home.

Not that they don’t have the resources, though. Up top, they have the most prolific scorer this league has seen in its journey of five years – Corominas. Coro has the ability to turn a half-chance into a certain goal, something only a handful of players can do and Costa knows that pretty well. Goa have a 7-0 lead over their opponents this season and it remains to be seen whether that plays a part on the minds of the Mumbai players.

Sergio Lobera's side has benefited from their possession-based attacking football

Tactically, FC Goa will walk out in a 4-2-3-1 shape, something that has worked brilliantly for the team for the second season running. After the departure of Manuel Lanzarote to ATK, Edu Bedia, Jackichand Singh and Brandon Fernandes have taken over the creative and supplying duties and how well have they managed to deliver! The club has scored 36 times in 18 games, at an average of at least two goals per game. That is seven more than any other club, sending them to a different horizon altogether.


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However, the Gaurs have had their moments of fall as well. Bengaluru FC blanked them 3-0 recently, scoring all goals in the second 45. Interestingly, Nishu Kumar had been red-carded just before half-time, but the Gaurs could not use the numeral advantage to gain points. The 4-1 defeat to Jamshedpur FC, down to heroics of Michael Soosairaj, is still fresh in memory. Lobera would be gunning to clean a lot of those blots.

They will need Seriton Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues and captain Mandar Rao Dessai to be on top of their game, if they are to stop the creative trio of Bastos, Machado and Arnold. Centrally, Mortada Fall and Carlos Pena will have to take extra care of Sougou, who may have the habit of breaching the offside trap, but uses that one opportunity well.

One-on-one

Brandon Fernandes Vs Souvik Chakraborty

Fernandes enjoys space and Souvik kills it

These two have their separate fan-bases. Clearly, they are effective in their roles and are articulate in laying out the manager’s plans on the pitch. In the game against ATK, as Goa romped to 3-0 against the Kolkata side, Fernandes held the ball for that extra moment, allowing Corominas to come back inside the offside trap, break it and run again. Such subtle nuances may not excite the usual viewer, but certainly have a massive effect on the team’s chemistry on the pitch.

Souvik, on the other hand, is a wily customer. One look at the lad would never make you believe that he’s a defender, let alone a full-back. But, he has used this to his advantage, taking positions right behind players as they receive the ball and try to turn. That sort of sensibility can be put into someone’s system, but using it well comes from within.

This will be a key battle. Fernandes enjoys space and Souvik kills it. The Goa #10 has time and again been a creative outlet, spraying forward or cross-field passes on every occasion he finds an onrushing player. Souvik’s graft will be the key in stopping that and it will leave an effect on the result of the game.

Modou Sougou Vs Carlos Pena

Sougou is a striker who never gets tired, while Pena is known for his positional astuteness

This is set to be a very interesting battle. Clubs in Europe, too, plan in a way this duel is set to pan out in front of the audiences. Here is a striker who’s never tired, continues to run for the entirety of the game and tires defences at will. Against him, Goa will plant a defender who is known for positional astuteness, but isn’t the fastest in the side. Who will come out on the top?

It’s a battle that was made in heaven and could decide Mumbai’s fortunes on the night. While Issoko and Bastos are players that can turn the game on its head single-handedly, Sougou, clearly, will be their best bet, being the player furthest forward. His runs behind Pena and Fall would be an interesting asset for Costa, who would expect his midfield general Machado to weave those through-balls again with precision.

Ferran Corominas Vs Lucian Goian

Coro will look to open the scoring for Goa, while Goian will need to stop him

Is this a battle between arguably the best defender Vs arguably the best forward in the league? You choose. It certainly is, for the author. The reputation might have gone down for Goian, but he’s still one of the best in the league and certainly the best in the side. About Coro, the lesser said, the better. Both players are in a league of their own and watching them go head-to-head is an Indian football fan’s happy dream.

Corominas, with all his wiliness and craft, has managed to score two times against Mumbai, but both of his goals were from the spot. That will give a boost to the captain of the home side and his teammates will derive inspiration from him. If FC Goa want to reach the final in their second attempt on the trot, they will expect their prized Spaniard to fire, something he failed to doin last season’s playoffs.

Goian, on the other hand, will try to make amends of his team’s porous defending against the Gaurs, which has seen them concede seven times in the last two encounters. If someone’s to bet on a man to stop Coro when he’s on his scoring mission, most people would name Goian. It is his home and he’s got something to prove.

Published: Thu Mar 07, 2019 01:59 PM IST

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