ISL 2015: Mumbai vs NorthEast will be a test of character, mental steel and togetherness

Mumbai City FC versus NorthEast United is about two teams that have conceded a combined 11 goals in their preceding matches. While Mumbai were hammered 7-0 by FC Goa, NorthEast come into the game on the back of a 4-1 home loss to Kerala Blasters. This is not just a test about who can pass better or hold their shape. This is a test of character, of mental strength, of composure and togetherness.

"It will be an open game, but at the same time, we have to be clever the way we start. For my side, I will play the same way — nothing special. My players know how to play and what to do. What is difficult is that when we concede, it's like a game lost. We need to show our character tomorrow. That we are capable to come back even if we concede — an opportunity for our players to show that they can be back in the Indian Super League next season as well," Mumbai's player-manager Nicolas Anelka said at the pre-match press conference.

 ISL 2015: Mumbai vs NorthEast will be a test of character, mental steel and togetherness

Sunil Chhteri in action for Mumbai City FC. ISL

For NorthEast's manager Cesar Farias, it's about keeping emotions in control: "All teams are hungry. And they all need wins now, except for Goa. That's going to make games very emotional, and those who make the best of those emotions will win. Some mistakes will happen due to that as well," he said.

The two teams are within touching distance of each other: Mumbai have better goal difference (-6 to NorthEast's -7), but have a point less. The Highlanders are in fifth with 13 points, with The Blues in sixth with 12. A win in Guwahati will take either team to the semifinal spot, with FC Pune having lost their extra game 3-1 against Delhi on 19 November.

"It will only be good for us if we come back with a good result. Otherwise it will be even worse. It's good to play straight away after a 7-0 loss; me message to the team was that even when you win, you have to put it in the past. You have to do the same when you lose," Anelka added.

Anelka has been pretty candid about the tactical problems he faces with his squad — he simply can't experiment with formations: "We will try the same tactic, because when we try something different, we have lost — against Atletico de Kolkata, against Goa and in a preseason friendly against Dubai. There's nothing special planned for NorthEast — the same thing, just do it like we know, and hopefully it will click."

There is however, a trend which has seen Mumbai play better with Sunil Chhetri at No 10. But with Anelka also available, it's hard for two playmaking forwards to share space in the same areas. While Anelka was adamant that it doesn't matter whether the Indian skipper plays on the left, right or centre, he did hint that he will give him a go in his favourite position again.

"He will play more in the middle in the next game and we will see if you're right about that," he told Firstpost after we quizzed him whether shunting Chhetri to the wings was a tactical error. "He played second half Goa at No 10, but we lost. I played him on the right because I think he can help the team there. He gave everything but the team didn't work out — it's not about one player," he said.

As for Farias, the dilemma will be to start with Simao Sabrosa or not. The Portuguese has been better as an impact substitute, but hasn't really shone when given a start.

"We think both ways have worked for us — having Simao at the start and off the bench. For this fixture, we have him well rested. Whoever is smart will take the game and while Mumbai beat us fair and square at home, this is a different story. Teams will have ups and downs and whoever hits these at the right time will be at an advantage," the Venezuelan said.

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Updated Date: Nov 20, 2015 15:35:10 IST