Mumbai City FC started their Indian Super League (ISL) 2016 campaign with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over FC Pune City at the latter's Balewadi Stadium home to earn bragging rights in the first Maharashtra Derby of the season.
New signing Matias Defederico latched onto a Diego Forlan pass to score the winner in their first match of the ISL 2016 campaign. While the visitors scored a goal, and had their two main attacking components combining for the same, one can't help but worry about the role of Forlan in the side.
Although coach Alexandre Guimaraes later said Forlan performed his role, the 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner cut a lonely figure up top. The problem, however, was that Forlan was used as a distraction and not as a means to score. His role was to create space for Defederico. To their credit, they did play their roles well and eventually combined for the winning goal. But against a higher class of opposition, Mumbai will want Forlan to come deeper and link up play.
Even on Monday night, the Uruguayan looked at his best when he pulled the Pune defenders closer to the half-way line and bent their defensive set-up out of shape.
Mumbai's best player on the evening was Defederico by a long way, and they can take heart from his solid performance as a No 10. The new signing controlled the game and looked to be the ideal link between midfield and attack.
What Mumbai need to improve immediately is their defence. The back line was susceptible, especially when Pune went on the counter-attack. Had it not been for the umpteen number of missed chances, this game might have swung in favour of the home team. There was a moment in the game when Pune's Arata Izumi made a beautiful no-look through ball in the 37th minute, but striker Gustavo Oberman could not beat the goalie, something he repeated regularly throughout the game.
Clearly, Pune are missing a striker, after Eidur Gudjohnsen's injury hampered their plans.
Apart from the defence, another area of concern for Mumbai would be the amount of possession they squandered. This problem isn't restricted just to Mumbai, however, and most teams face this issue in the league. There is a sense of over-reliance on long balls and defenders prefer putting the ball up front rather than running into spaces and bringing the midfield into play.
On Monday, there were far too many occasions when Mumbai's players found their midfield moving towards the flanks and opening up space for the defenders to move in, except both central defenders kept punting the ball up front rather than get adventurous. This was simply wasteful, and giving away possession so easily makes no sense. Considering Forlan and Defederico aren't target men who could make the most of a long ball, this particular strategy makes even lesser sense.
To be fair, Mumbai missed an important cog in their wheel — Manipuri winger Jackichand Singh. His play on the wings was sorely missed by Guimaraes' men. Brought on in the 89th minute, he looked assured in the few moments he got with the ball, and once he regains full match fitness, Mumbai will have one more avenue for attack other than their South American forward line.
Tactically speaking, Pune managed to hold better shape throughout the game in comparison to Mumbai. But not by too much. Both teams will look to elevate their football, and discipline in their formation is what is required. There were far too many instances of players not being in the correct position and this hampered the quality of football on display. But because this was their opening match of the ISL 2016 campaign, some amount of rustiness can be excused.
It will obviously take time for the manager to implement his style of play and one game cannot be a yardstick for how Mumbai will play. All areas of their football need improvement and getting in the hours on the pitch will be paramount if they want to challenge for the play-offs and eventually hope to win the league in its third edition.
Keeping in mind that Mumbai is playing with a depleted squad, with Bengaluru FC’s amazing AFC Cup run only adding to an already depleted squad, it's imperative that they grind out a string of good results in order to mount a play-off challenge when their full squad arrives. This Mumbai team will look much stronger when players like Sunil Chhetri and Sony Norde arrive from their respective club/country. The result against Pune is a huge positive as despite not playing to the best of their abilities, they ground out a win. An ugly win, but a win nonetheless!