The two best sides of the Indian Super League (ISL) -- Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan -- are set for one final clash for the playoffs trophy at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao on Saturday. There was not much to separate between the sides during the league stages, with both teams finishing level on points but for Mumbai’s two wins over ATKMB that tipped the Shield in its favour.
ATKMB didn’t do much wrong in both the defeats to Mumbai but was undone by what ATKMB normally do to other sides: landing the decisive sucker-punches. In the most recent defeat at the GMC Athletic Stadium in the final league stage game, Habas’ defense-first selection cost his side.
ISL 2021 Final, Mumbai City FC vs ATK Mohun Bagan:LIVE BLOG
Ahead of the final, Sportstar looks at key plays which could help decide the outcome.
ATKMB needs creativity in midfield
In the 0-2 defeat in the final league stage of the season, Habas played a 5-2-3 system in attack with Pronay Halder and Lenny Rodrigues as the central midfielders. Neither player can progress the ball or play line-breaking passes, which made it difficult to get the ball swiftly into the feet of the attacking trio of Roy Krishna, David Williams and Marcelinho in the final third of the pitch.
In the 13 minute, Halder received the ball on the right flank, took a touch, looked up and saw Bipin Singh converging on him and hence opted to turn back to pass it behind. A riskier option would have been to find Williams in space outside the Mumbai box and Marcelinho looking to make a run off centreback Hernan Santana. When Sandesh Jhingan came off with an injury in the 19 minute and with the team trailing 0-1, it was Prabir Das who came on as attacking midfielder Javier Hernandez looked on from the bench.
Mumbai ceded possession in the game but ATKMB struggled to hurt its defence due to its lack of creativity in midfield. It was only in the second half, Edu Garcia came on as a substitute after a month-long injury layoff. In another transitional play, Halder was again culpable in not finding Edu Garcia or Williams in space. Both the attackers expressed their displeasure with Halder’s choice to pass the ball back which allowed Mumbai to regain its defensive shape.
In the 2-1 win over NorthEast United in the second leg, Habas opted for a 5-3-2 formation with a midfield of Lenny Rodrigues, Carl McHugh, and Hernandez. Hernandez provided the link between defense and attack as the ball progresser and with his ability to break the lines with his passing range.
For ATKMB’s opening goal, Hernandez played a first-time 25-yard pass from inside his own half into the feet of Krishna to set Williams’ run behind the NorthEast defence to score. ATKMB made life difficult for NEUFC when it decided to play front-foot, attacking football. If they don’t have the ball and not find Krishna, Williams or Manvir, chances are Mumbai City’s backline are not going to be troubled.
Can Mumbai take advantage of flappable Arindam
ATKMB custodian Arindam Bhattacharja maybe leading the cleansheets stats this season but a few chinks in his armour were revealed in recent games. He doesn’t necessarily command the box and has displayed poor decision making when dealing with aerial deliveries.
In the win over NEUFC, he flapped at a header from Benjamin Lambot, which lacked any kind of pace or power, and ended up fumbling the ball in front of goal for VP Suhair to nod it into the net. In the 86th minute, his punch from a long ball fell inside the box to Suhair, who found Ashutosh Mehta in the six-yard but a skied saved Arindam’s blushes.
Previously, in the first leg in Bambolim, his positioning on the line cost him the ability to keep out a stoppage-time equaliser from Idrissa Sylla. In the 50 minute of the game, he raced off his line and fouled Luis Machado but was lucky to avoid getting sent off.
While Lobera’s team prefer to play the ball along the floor, there is no doubting the added threat it possesses from dead-ball situations. Mumbai City has scored 20 goals from set-pieces this season, more than what it managed from open play (17). Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous’ delivery could prove to hold the key for the big men joining in the attack for Mumbai.
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