When Mumbai City FC hosts NorthEast United FC on Friday in their second match of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2016 campaign, only one team can come out of the encounter with their unbeaten league record intact. Mumbai won the only match they played, against state rivals FC Pune City, while NorthEast United have raced off the blocks with two wins out of two.
NEUFC beat Kerala Blasters in the opening match of ISL 2016, before traveling to FC Goa to beat last year's runners-up 2-0. As it stands, both teams are unbeaten, but that is where the comparisons end.
NEUFC missed out on a play-off spot by a whisker last year, but have had the best of starts this season and are playing good football. Manager Nelo Vingada was all praise following their last game against FC Goa. "The first game, in any league, is not the real game for both teams. It (the match against Kerala Blasters) was not a great game for both sides. The best thing was the result. We deserved to win because we created many chances," he had said.
"But the second game was very good, for any league in Asia. Believe me, the game between NorthEast and Goa can be a good game in Korea, China, Japan, Iran or UAE. I was watching a league game from Emirates (on TV) and it was not better than our game. It was intense, very good opportunities for both teams to score and lot of emotions. We were lucky because we scored twice and the goalkeeper made a lot of good saves,” said Vingada.
On the other hand, Mumbai had a lacklustre first match against FC Pune City, even though they came away with a vital away win. "We won against a very good team. This is always good, because history tells us that Mumbai had never won an opening match in the ISL. Also, it was an away match against a very tough team. Pune are one of the contenders (for the title) this season," said Alexandre Guimaraes, coach of the Mumbai City FC side. "But that game is now behind us, and we started to focus on our second game from that day onwards. It's always nice to start with a win. The confidence grows."
The lack of offensive players seems to be the Costa Rican's biggest headache at this point. Other than Matias Defederico, nobody in the Mumbai camp looked like a good option going forward in their last match. Diego Forlan was left up top with virtually no chances, and it was only when he came deeper that he could combine with Defederico and take the game into the opposition's final third.
"We are trying to find solutions in offence and for Diego to not have all the responsibility to score. Our top-scorer (Gaston Sangoy) in pre-season was injured, which is bad for us. We are also missing Sony (Norde) because of international matches. These are big guys for us, but I think we managed well. Against NEUFC, it will be another test for us to improve in that area,” he added.
However, Vingada said Mumbai will clearly start favorites. "Tomorrow is the most important and the most difficult game for me. I hope it's a great promotion for the ISL. Three results can happen and we are here to make life hard for Mumbai. It won’t be easy for us, but we will try to make things difficult for them," the Portuguese coach said.
Mumbai have their own problems to fix, but they can at least take solace in Defederico's performance. The Argentine bossed the game in the No 10 role, and as games go by, his familiarity with Forlan's runs will make them a force to reckon with.
NorthEast will want in form striker Emiliano Alfaro to be the thorn in an opposition's side with goals. In the three goals the Guwahati-based side has scored in their two opening matches, he has scored two. To be fair, his goals are down to NorthEast playing like a team rather than his own solo effort, and this is what makes their entire squad a danger to defend against.
While Mumbai look the better side on paper, a combination of injuries, international duties and a lack of cohesiveness in the team has hampered their football. But if they are looking to play an exciting and attacking game, then they need to look no further than NorthEast United FC. After all, a jaded opening game was quickly forgotten after their exciting end to end result against FC Goa.