If Diego Forlan can't make it happen then Matias Defederico will and if Defederico can't then... well that's the biggest question facing Mumbai City FC in the ISL so far. It was the pair of Forlan and Defederico that was running the show in the first couple of matches but with the former Manchester United striker injured after the second match, against NorthEast United FC, Defederico has been single-handedly running the show for Mumbai.
However, after a 'surprising' bright start to the season where they won their first two matches, Mumbai have lost a bit of momentum. Though they played well against Atletico de Kolkata, they could garner only a draw and then lost to Kerala Blasters in the next match. Somewhere down the line, it seems that there is an overdependence on Defederico and that's impacting the results. Dependence is good but overdependence is worrying. The absence of strikers with Forlan injured and Sunil Chhetri on Bengaluru FC duty in AFC Cup has hurt them.
This is where the support cast to Defederico in the forward line will have to step up. In their last match against Kerala Blasters, Mumbai were offensively pretty meek and managed just two shots on target. The likes of Leo Costa, Boithang Haokip and Sony Norde will have to put their hands up and deliver. Not just perform, but also score goals. Mumbai have had just 16 shots on target so far in their four matches, the third lowest behind Chennaiyin FC (ten) and Kerala Blasters (nine) and this sounds an ominous warning ahead of the Delhi match.
This is the chance for the forward line to capitalise on Delhi's shaky defence. Their fullbacks Souvik Chakrabarti and Lalchuankima were rattled by Nicolas Velez and Emiliano Alfaro against NorthEast United and this is where the wingers can cash in to further exploit their weaknesses.
Ahead of the match, Mumbai City coach Alexandre Guimaraes said that due to constant travel, he hadn't had time to study the opposition but would analyse Delhi and conduct a meeting with the players, when asked about Delhi's troubles with fullbacks. Well, the message has reached and it's highly unlikely that one can ignore this point. Sometimes media can act as your analyst!
Mumbai's defence has been shaky this season, in the first two matches they were let off because of the wastefulness of their opponents. They missed defensive midfielder Pranoy Halder dearly in the last match which allowed Kerala to dominate possession and play. Pranoy, with his rugged approach, is someone who controls the tempo of the game and acts as a solid shield for the back four. With Delhi Dynamos employing an aggressive brand of football, his role will be crucial in the midfield.
Delhi Dynamos too have had a somewhat similar curve as Mumbai. They started off pretty well against Chennaiyin FC in their opener but have slipped a bit with two draws in the next two matches. However, they are one of only two unbeaten teams in the ISL. Delhi have played an entertaining brand of football so far but somehow failed to find the back of the net often. It was their wastefulness in the last match that cost them two points. Accuracy will be the key going into the Mumbai match. Finishing is one aspect where they need drastic improvmement and coach Gianluca Zambrotta has stressed upon its importance ahead of the clash.
“We had a very good match against NorthEast, they are the best team in the league for a reason and it showed in their quality of play. We had a lot of opportunities against them. We understand the need to learn on how to capitalise after creating so many chances. We will need to change our strategy and mentality to finish off games like these,” Zambrotta said in the pre-match conference.
Two men who will be key to Delhi's chances are Kean Lewis and Marcelinho. With their pace and trickery, the duo would look to exploit the cracks in the Mumbai defence. Lewis has one goal and one assist so far, while Marcelinho has found the back of the net twice.
Delhi have retained most of the core and tactical formation for their three matches so far. Sometimes constant changes can confuse the opposition but stability is also the key. Zambrotta hinted that there might not be too much of chopping and changing against Mumbai explaining the importance of identity he is trying to create.
“We do prepare each match keeping (in) mind the opposition. The reason you may be seeing a similar style or formation is because we believe it’s important to have our identity, our plan. Maybe we change something tomorrow, but it wouldn’t be so radical that it changes the team’s identity and DNA,” the former Juventus fullback said in the pre-match conference.
One more thing that will be crucial is the crowd factor. The last match saw 27,463 turning up at the Nehru Stadium, an unusually high number in Delhi, but it was the large fan base of NEUFC that created an electric atmosphere which seemed to put the Delhi players under pressure. It seemed as if it was just another away match for the hosts.
They would expect the home fans to create a similar sort of atmosphere against Mumbai and make them feel at home at least this time around.
“When you play at home, it’s very exciting for player and coach and every supporter. It’s comforting and gives a lot of confidence psychologically. I think for us, crowd support is important," Zambrotta said.
Both the teams would be looking to get back to winning ways. However, the pressure will be more on Mumbai as this is their second consecutive away match. The travelling might have taken a toll. Of the next five matches, they will play four away from home which is going to be tough. Delhi's aggressive brand of football has impressed the Mumbai coach but he will be wary of the dangers that await them on Tuesday.
“I think Delhi Dynamos are doing well in the league. They try to play attractive football. They have shown they are a tough team. I hope we can have a good game,” Guimaraes said.
“There is a block of four games in which three are away, so we know the importance to win points away as well. We did that in Pune but did not get any points in Kerala. We hope we can have a better game and take points. The tournament is showing us that every game is going to be tough,” he added.
Forlan will be back for the next match against FC Goa, but until then, it's the support cast of Defederico that needs to make it happen for Mumbai City FC.