With the ISL 3 carnival already underway we profile the team from the nation’s financial capital, Mumbai City FC…
Last season’s performance
Mumbai City FC had a disappointing season last time around, as they failed to make the most of a very attractive attacking unit, eventually finishing sixth. While on paper, they looked one of the more formidable squads in the competition, unrest within the squad, injuries and over-reliance on a few key players, put paid to their hopes of glory in 2015. Marquee player cum manager Nicolas Anelka failed to build a cohesive team and the problem of often capitulating under pressure is something that the team would be looking to rectify this season.
Alexandre Guimaraes was appointed as the Head Coach of the Mumbai based team for this season, in the process becoming their third manager in three seasons. Probably learning from the fiasco of last campaign, Mumbai City wisely elected to hire the highly experienced manager who has been to the World Cup as both, a player and a coach with Costa Rica. The well-travelled Guimaraes has also got previous experience of managing clubs in Asia, which should hold him in good stead during his stint in India. Apart from his spell at Al-Wasl in the UAE, he last managed Tianjin Teda in the Chinese Super League and definitely has the experience to handle the pressure he shall undoubtedly face helming the team from India’s commercial capital.
What shall excite the Mumbai City FC faithful is the Brazil born, Costa Rica international’s tactical flexibility, as he is known to adapt according to the strengths of the squad, rather than enforcing a rigid system on his team.
Transfers In: The incomings at the club have been headlined by Diego Forlan, the Uruguayan icon, who has starred for various clubs including Manchester United, Villareal and Atletico Madrid in his stellar career. Further reinforcements have been bought in, in the form of Brazilian youngster Gerson Vieira and Hungarian midfielder Krisztian Vadocz, both at the opposite ends of their career. The focus has been on bringing in players who can complement Guimaraes’ short passing game, with plenty of movement and mobility.
Former Argentina International Matias Defederico is expected to add trickery and pace on the wings, while the team has also added key Indian players like Jackichand Singh, Boithang Haokip and Aiborlang Khongjee to further boost their midfield and defense.
Transfers Out: Needless to say, it is unlikely that Nicolas Anelka’s absence will be felt in Mumbai, after the club’s performance last season. Andre Moritz, who had a spectacular fallout with his coach last campaign, having previously been a key player for Mumbai City, will also not be back for this ISL season. Anelka’s French compatriot, Frederic Piquionne will also be gone, along with several Indian internationals like Subrata Paul, Kingshuk Debnath, Lalrindika Ralte and Subhash Singh.
Formation and Tactics
While Guimaraes will adapt according to the squad at his disposal and the need of the hour during games, the Costa Rican has largely preferred a short, quick passing game, with an emphasis to move the ball to the wings and create space for crosses, during a very successful pre-season in the UAE, where they went unbeaten against some strong opposition.
The manager though will be hamstrung due to several of his Indian players not being available for the first few games, as they are busy with Bengaluru FC on AFC Cup duty. This includes star striker Sunil Chhetri, and the Mumbai City FC coach will have to plan accordingly for the earlier phases of the campaign.
Roberto Volpato will be pushed all the way by Amrinder Singh for the starting spot, once the ex-Pune FC keeper becomes available for selection, with the choice possibly depending upon who starts further ahead, keeping in mind the quota restrictions.
In defense, Guimaraes has the option of pairing Anwar Ali with either of Gerson Vieira or Romanian Lucian Goian in central defense, while Aibor Khongjee would be a favourite to start at right-back. With L. Fanai injured, Sena Ralte can expect to start at left-back for Mumbai City. Whether the potential lack of pace in their central options leaves them defending deep, is an issue that the coach will have to deal with.
Guimaraes has several options to choose from, in midfield, with Defederico and Vadocz looking like sure shot starters on the wing and central midfield, respectively. Defederico will definitely add some guile and poise to the team and the interlinking and swapping of wings between him and Norde may be crucial to their fortunes this year. Pronay Halder , Sehnaj Singh and Leo Costa are set to battle it out for a spot in the heart of the Mumbai City midfield.
Upfront, provided he proves his fitness, Diego Forlan will definitely start in the hole, taking advantage of his experience and ability to bring his teammates into the game. He will be expected to dominate the game from that position and with Sunil Chhetri missing, the onus of supporting him in attack may fall on Gaston Sangoy for the first few games.
Overall, there seems to be plenty of pace and cutting edge in the squad, which shall only be augmented when the four Bengaluru FC players return to the fold.
Man to Watch
While it may be easy to opt for Forlan here, the Uruguayan will need time to settle in at his new club. With Sunil Chhetri missing, the onus may fall on Sony Norde to provide the cutting edge for the team, as he has in the recent past for both Mumbai City and Mohun Bagan. While he blew hot and cold during the last season, he was still one of the best performers for Anelka’s side and will be hoping to convert more of the chances that shall fall his way this season. If he can improve his finishing, to add to his overall game, it will go a long way to helping his team up the table.
After a positive pre-season and having looked to build a squad with good depth and multiple options, Mumbai City will be hoping this is the season when they finally reach the play-offs. While the absence of the Bengaluru FC players and injuries to a few others will have dampened the mood in the camp, anything less than a play-off spot would be considered a failure.
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The Mumbai outfit have endured two woeful campaigns in the ISL so far, finishing miles of the play-off pace in both seasons. While they were hardly setting the pitch on fire at home last year, it was their disastrous form on the road that was a cause of concern. All in all with 16 goals scored and 25 conceded there is much room for improvement across the pitch for the side from the metropolis.
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Editorial by Khel Now Correspondent from Mumbai Ayush Srivastava.