The Islanders have delivered a hit-and-a-miss performance in the ISL so far and it would be interesting to see them shape up without their star Senegalese striker.

Mumbai City FC have endured an indifferent start to their ISL season, losing key man Modou Sougou to injury in the early stages. The Islanders have registered a victory in the first match of the season followed by a draw, a rather chaotic defeat to Odisha FC  and finally, another 2-4 loss at the hands of FC Goa in their fourth game of the campaign. One of the major issues that Jorge Costa has been facing is the injuries that have plagued the side in the first weeks of the season. Key players like Mato Grgic and Rowlin Borges have pulled out of games due to their respective fitness issues.

These absentees have affected the defensive side of their gameplay adversely, which was blatantly visible in their 2-4 defeat to Josep Gombau’s side. However, one of the other major problems has been the absence of Modou Sougou, who too had to be taken off early in the first half against Chennaiyin FC, for what looked like a hamstring injury of sorts.

Sougou had anyway not started the first game against Kerala Blasters and this subsequent incident in the second match has raised concerns about his overall physical fitness. There are also concerns about whether he would be able to contribute for Mumbai in the ongoing campaign.

Why is Modou Sougou so important to the Mumbai City setup?

Modou Sougou has traditionally been a winger in his career. He likes to play out wide, cut in and make striking runs with incisive passes in the final third. However, after he was apparently shoehorned into a more central role last season, the Senegalese international flourished, as Costa was able to make the best use of his instinctive goalscoring abilities. As a result, the 34-year-old concluded the previous term with an impressive tally of 12 goals from 18 matches.

This time though, his lack of minutes has had a direct impact on Mumbai City’s goalscoring abilities in general. The impact and energy that Sougou brings to the setup was evident in the first game, when he was sent on with a few minutes to go for half-time. He complemented Amine Chermiti, as he made sure he played across the frontline and was generally more involved in the creation of goalscoring phases in the game. He was keen to drop in, shunt out wider, interlink astutely with the midfielders and full-backs and drag defenders out of position.

In summary, Modou Sougou tends to bring his teammates into play much better and manages to remain an imposing figure upon the opposition’s backline, even without necessarily registering his name on the scoresheet. Being a natural winger, his first instinct is always to torment the defenders through some smart runs, even though he is approaching the wrong end of the 30s. The sheer keenness to involve himself more in the play when the tides are against the team and to make sure that he buries any chance that comes his way, is a trait that helped Costa’s team massively in their rather good run last time around.

How has his absence been felt in the team?

To start off, let us take the entire match against Odisha for context. Firstly, Mumbai were terribly lacking steel and solidity in midfield, after Borges picked up an injury in the warm-up. Raynier Fernandes was thus pushed back further, whilst Paulo Machado too undertook a more reserved role right from the start. However, neither of that duo’s primary instinct is to break up the opposition’s attack and hence, the midfield seemed drastically disjointed in the entireity of the first half.

Given that Mumbai failed to curb Odisha’s offensive plays through the middle, the forwards too were dragged back and thus, were unable to string any noteworthy passages of play that could have possibly led to a goal. The two goals that they bagged that night, were thanks to the courtesy of a controversial spot-kick call and then a mess-up made by Odisha’s custodian, Francisco Dorronsoro, late in injury-time. For most of the 90 minutes, Chermiti had to peg back right till the halfway line in order to interlink with Raynier.

Costa had possibly instructed the team to play in a counter-attacking setup given the circumstances, but the team failed to produce anything noteworthy even through that. Whilst Chermiti’s work-rate was absolutely top-notch throughout the course of that game, it can possibly be argued that Sougou’s presence alongside him, could have led to a much more pronounced impact.

How will Mumbai City FC approach the coming games in Sougou’s absence?

This question is rather interesting, as it comes at a time when they are preparing themselves to head into the international break. Odisha had torn Mumbai’s backline to pieces and so did Goa.

For the upcoming games, they would just have to hope that Raynier finds a way to play more in the final third, rather than sticking to a more defensive role. That way, he would be more in touch with Chermiti, whose goal-poaching ability shouldn’t be understated. Mohamed Larbi’s set-piece deliveries were absolutely pinpoint against Odisha and Mumbai need to capitalize on any deadball situation that arises, at least until Modou Sougou comes back from his injury layoff and is able to add further influence in open play.

Serge Kevyn is yet another individual, who if deployed and used to his strengths, could deliver notable performances. His potential has to be extracted appropriately by Mumbai City FC, along with Chermiti, who regardless of the team’s displays, has been a shining light in the season so far. Otherwise, it already looks like a pretty long season for last year’s third-place finishers, unless they recover their whole squad back from injuries.