Mumbai City FC have boasted star-studded sides in the two previous editions of the Indian Super League (ISL), but have still never managed to finish in the top four. They had a disastrous season under Nicholas Anelka in 2015, and will aim to make amends in the third edition with a new coach, a new marquee signing and a new home.
Costa Rican coach Alexandre Guimaraes has a talented squad at his hands, with a mix of Indian youngsters and experienced international players, and he will be hoping to strike the right balance to guide the team to the play-offs. Here's a look at five key players who will hold the key to Mumbai City FC's ISL chances this year:
New marquee signing Diego Forlan is by far the most prolific name across all eight clubs at ISL 2016. The Uruguayan has played for some of the biggest European clubs, and has won the Copa America, Europa League and the Golden Ball award at the 2010 Fifa World Cup. The 37-year-old striker adds some destructive firepower to what could turn out to be the most dangerous attack in the league. His tireless work ethic and desire to still improve at his age could make him the perfect leader to inspire a young team. Along with Sunil Chhetri and Sony Norde, the Blues could run riot and score plenty of goals. Forlan comes to India on the heels of winning the Uruguayan league title with Penarol, and has the hunger to keep his great run going.
Captain Sunil Chhetri is arguably India's best football player at the moment. The 32-year-old striker has 51 goals in 91 appearances, making him the top-scorer as well as the most-capped player for India. He was also the top scorer for Bengaluru FC in their title-winning run in the 2015-16 season. Last year, he got seven goals for Mumbai City FC, including a hat-trick against NorthEast United FC, becoming the first Indian to do so in the ISL. He is also in great form; in an international friendly against Puerto Rico last month, Chhetri was at his very best, scoring one goal and setting up two more. Chhetri and Forlan could form an explosive attacking duo, and the Indian can finally play in his preferred No 10 position from the word go this year. But he is another player who will be out for the Blues at least until 19 October, as he will be away with Bengaluru FC. Guimaraes will be keeping a close eye on Bengaluru's second leg, which will feature four Mumbai City FC players. Mumbai's performance in their absence could make or break their season, but their return will only help them to rise further.
Argentine winger Matias Defederico has been one of the best signings of the ISL this season. The 27-year-old is a skillful dribbler and his pace on the wings will be a huge asset for Mumbai. Having played for top clubs in South America like Huracan and Cornithians, he has plenty of international experience under his belt. As an attacking midfielder, he could feature in the role of a playmaker for Mumbai, creating and setting up chances for Forlan and Co upfront. The fast left-footed player can easily break through the opponents' defences. Coach Guimaraes will be relying on him to reinforce the club's goal-scoring abilities.
In the first two seasons, Mumbai City FC was repeatedly let down by its defence, and the club had one of the worst defensive records. Their defensive frailties let them repeatedly, and they are keen to show that they have learnt from their mistakes. To this end, goalkeeper Amrinder Singh's signing will be a step in the right direction. The young Indian custodian had a splendid season in goal in 2015 with Atletico de Kolkata, and he will be aiming to replicate his form for Mumbai. He was a key player for Bengaluru FC in the I-League as well, and helped them clinch their second league title in 2015-16. He has also featured in Bengaluru’s unprecedented run to the 2016 AFC Cup semi-finals. But unfortunately for Mumbai, this means that Amrinder will miss their opening games till Bengaluru's run in the Asian Cup continues. In his absence, veteran Brazilian goalkeeper will fill in his shoes behind their back four.
Pronay Halder is another player Mumbai City FC have signed to strengthen their defensive weaknesses. The 23-year-old is one of the best defensive midfielders in the country. He has been heralded as one of the most promising young players to watch out for in the ISL this year. Halder recently won the Federation Cup with Mohun Bagan and will want to continue his great form in the ISL as well. His versatility and technical acumen make him one the most crucial players for the Blues. Halder will aid the back four immensely and could be the backbone that holds their defence together. Guimaraes also has the option of playing him as a makeshift centre-back, and he is also an established threat from set-pieces. His sound tactical and tackling abilities could bolster Mumbai and help them challenge for the title.