ISL 2020-21: Lobera's Mumbai City faces litmus test against NorthEast United

ISL 2020: Mumbai City FC will begin a new era under Sergio Lobera when it takes on NorthEast United FC in its Indian Super League (ISL 2020-21) season-opener.

Sergio Lobera

Mumbai City FC coach Sergio Lobera may have a slight advantage going into the game against NorthEast United since he has spent three seasons in the ISL and also because he has four of his most-experienced players from Goa with him at MCFC.   -  Twitter @MumbaiCityFC

The perennial underperformer of the Indian Super League, NorthEast United FC, will begin its ISL 2020-21 campaign against one of the favourites this season, Mumbai City FC, at the Tilak Maidan in Goa on Saturday. 

Both sides failed to make the playoffs last edition, with NEUFC finishing only above bottom-placed Hyderabad FC. Meanwhile, MCFC, whose majority stakes were purchased by City Football Group last season, missed out on a last-four spot by three points. 

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However, this season could be different for NorthEast and Mumbai, under new managers who have completed several high-profile transfers.

LISTEN to our preview of the 2020-21 edition of the Indian Super League

Gerard Nus, who has worked in different capacities at Liverpool FC, Brighton and Hove Albion and Ghana national team, has replaced caretaker Khalid Jamil at NEUFC. On the other hand, one of ISL's most successful managers, Sergio Lobera, has moved from FC Goa to MCFC to take over from Jorge Costa. 

- Notable transfers -

NorthEast scored the least goals among teams last season. However, the Highlanders had the fifth-best defence, with only the playoffs-qualified teams conceding fewer goals.

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The loss of star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche, who is now with Mumbai, had affected NEUFC during the 2019-20 edition. Hence, the outfit has recruited former QPR forward Idrissa Sylla and Portuguese winger Luis Machado to lead the attack while retaining Uruguayan attacking midfielder Federico Gallego.

 

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When it comes to defence, Nus' side has secured the services of centre-backs Benjamin Lambot and Dylan Fox to replace Mislav Komorski and Kai Heerings. Defensive midfielder Khassa Camara will take Jose Leudo's place in the lineup. Forwards Asamoah Gyan and Martin Chaves were released after unsuccessful stints. 

Meanwhile, Mumbai City has signed four players from Goa, apart from its head coach Lobera. The likes of Hugo Boumous, last season's player of the tournament, Mourtada Fall, Ahmed Jahouh and Mandar Rao Dessai jumped ship too.

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The Islanders haven't retained a single foreigner from last year, including top-scorer Amine Chermiti and his strike partner Modou Sougou. Nigerian centre-forward Ogbeche, ISL's fifth-highest goal scorer of all time, and former Premier League player Adam le Fondre were roped in to upgrade the attack.

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French playmaker Boumous, who made 21 goal contributions in the 2019-20 edition, and new signing Farukh Choudhary will provide ample support to the strikers. Jahouh and other foreign midfield recruits, Hernan Santana and Cy Goddard, could be rotated through the course of the tournament.

- Key battles -

In the duel between Spanish managers, Lobera has a slight advantage because he's spent three seasons in the league and has four of his most-experienced players from Goa to assist him. However, 35-year-old Nus is no stranger to pressure as he began coaching at 22.

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The lethal MCFC attack will be a massive threat for the NEUFC defence and goalkeeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, who ended the previous edition with the most saves and finished third in the Golden Glove race, could be called to action regularly.  

On the contrary, custodian Amrinder Singh and his backline should be cautious about the counter-attacks of NorthEast, which possesses a pacy full-back in Rakesh Pradhan. The departure of Reagan Singh has led to the purchases of Ashutosh Mehta and Gurjinder Kumar from Mohun Bagan to complement Pradhan.

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In Mumbai's case, Fall, alongside full-backs Dessai and Sarthak Golui, will lead the defence against Sylla and company.

The squads

NorthEast United FC: Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Sanjiban Ghosh, Gurmeet Singh, Nikhil Deka, Benjamin Lambot (Belgium), Nim Dorjee Tamang, Dylan Fox (Australia), Wayne Vaz, Ashutosh Mehta, Nabin Rabha, Provat Lakra, Rakesh Pradhan, Gurjinder Kumar, Ponif Vaz, Mashoor Shereef Thangalakath, Khassa Camara (Mauritania), Lalengmawia, Imran Khan, Lalrempuia Fanai, Pragyan Sundar Gogoi, Federico Gallego (Uruguay), Surabuddin Mollick, Rochharzela, Idrissa Sylla (Guinea), Britto P. M., Ninthoi Meetei, Luis Machado (Portugal), Suhair V. P., Kwesi Appiah (Ghana), Lalkhawpuimawia. 

Mumbai City FC: Amrinder Singh, Nishit Shetty, Vikram Lahkbir Singh, Phurba Lachenpa, Mourtada Fall (Senegal), Mandar Rao Dessai, Tondonba Singh, Sarthak Golui, Amey Ranawade, Mohamad Rakip, Mehtab Singh, Valpuia, Ahmed Jahouh (Morocco), Rowllin Borges, Bidyananda Singh, Cy Goddard (Japan), Raynier Fernandes, Hugo Boumous (France), Farukh Choudhary, Sourav Das, Hernan Santana (Spain), Asif Khan, Bipin Singh, Vikram Pratap Singh, Vignesh D, Bartholomew Ogbeche (Nigeria), Pranjal Bhumij, Adam Le Fondre (England).

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