Kolkata: Atletico de Kolkata host Mumbai City FC at the Rabindra Sarovar stadium in the first of the return fixtures in this year's Indian Super League. Since the the 1-1 draw between the two sides in Mumbai, the duo have endured contrasting fortunes, with Atletico picking up five as compared to Mumbai's solitary point.
Yet only a point separates the two sides heading into the rematch, although it must be noted that the Jose Molina's men have played one game less than Alexandre Guimares's side.
The teams seem to have little difference on paper. The standard of performances of both over the course of this season so far have been fairly even. But what's kept these two teams apart in the table are factors the respective clubs have characterised in the three seasons – inconsistency for Mumbai City and defensive organisation and discipline for Atletico.
Mumbai on their day have been almost unplayable with a lethal combination of pace, trickery and experience among their strike force that has terrorised teams. But on a day when the going has been a bit tough, that very attack has looked almost toothless. The loss against FC Goa was a classic case of inconsistency showcased by Mumbai City FC over the three ISL seasons.
On the other hand, apart from a second half blitz by Chennaiyin in their first game of the season, Atletico's defense has held up well and conceded just two goals in the four matches played after that. There were a few uneasy moments for them against the Delhi Dynamos in the previous game, but goalkeeper Debjit Majumder put his hand up.
However, a problem that plagues both sides as they prepare to lock horns, is the misfiring attacks. Ruling the 3-3 draw against Delhi Dynamos as an one-off match, Mumbai has only scored thrice in five games. Fortunately for them, two of those goals came in their two 1-0 wins, while the other one was a well deserved goal in a dominant first half against Atletico in Mumbai.
The hosts, meanwhile, have scored in each of their games so far, but Molina's men have not managed more than one goal in each of their last four games. Those have been good enough to keep them unbeaten this season thanks to their defensive displays, but a bad day at the office for Atletico's rearguard could see that unbeaten run being snapped.
Neither manager made a great deal out of their shortcomings in the forward department, but neither failed to acknowledge it.
"Our strikers are playing really well. Postiga played well in the first match. Belencoso played well but it is true that they have not scored too many goals even though (Iain) Hume had lot of chances, his two goals have only come from the penalty spot," Molina said ahead of the game.
"We would be worried if our strikers would not have chances to score in the match. But we are creating chances. They are moving inside the pitch really well and thus, I have confidence in Hume, Belencoso and Postiga. With their hard work you will see them scoring soon," he added.
His opposite number, Guimares, on the other hand played own suggestions of a lack of goals, pointing to the three his side scored against Delhi. "I'm not too worried about that (not scoring) as we have scored against almost every team. Apart from the first half against Kerala, we have created chances consistently. Although I'm not satisfied with our results," said the Uruguain manager.
"I think we've played better than the points we have on the table. We have been a lot more creative than what the table shows," he added.
Mumbai City will have Diego Forlan available once again and will be hoping he puts an end to their woes in front of goal. If he can get his scoring boots on, Mumbai can wreck havoc in any defense with the likes of Sony Norde and Matias Defederico providing support to the club's marquee player.
Speaking of the marquee players, Atletico are still waiting for Helder Postiga to return to full fitness, however coach Molina hinted that the Portuguese may have recovered enough to find a place on bench for the game against Mumbai City.
Also missing for the home side will be defender Henrique Sereno, who is serving a suspension for his red card in the previous game. Experienced Indian defender Arnab Mondal could take his place in the heart of the Atletico defense, although the coach was tight-lipped about it.
Javi Lara who scored the all-important equaliser when the two sides met earlier in the season, could make a return after taking part in team's training session ahead of the game. Bikash Jairu and Ofentse Nato remain doubts for the home side.
Mumbai City FC have a growing injury list of their own, with midfielder Leo Costa set to miss out due to injury. Club top-scorer Matias Defederico and Anwar Ali, who suffered injuries in the last game against FC Goa, could return after training successfully before the match. Defederico's return could really boost the visitors' chances as his inclusion will give the Mumbai City attack a real cutting edge. Sehnaj Singh is also expected to be fit for the visitors, thus adding to Guimares' options.
The many options give Mumbai City FC a much better chance of getting something from Kolkata. Local favourite Norde, who will be in rival colours, will hold the key for Guimares' side. The Haitian's pace and guile will give even the assured Atletico defense problems and Mumbai would need to find a way of breaching to get something out of the game.
Norde will have fond memories of his last visit to Kolkata as a Mumbai City player when he completely toyed with the hosts' defense while scoring two in a 3-2 win at the Salt Lake stadium. That also happened to be the club's first ever win on the road in ISL history.
But playing at home, an unbeaten record, recent form and Mumbai City's inconsistency makes Atletico slight favourites in this clash of the misfiring forward lines. With plenty of firepower in the ranks, either of the strike forces could come to the fore at any point of time, but with a spot at the top of the table at stake both teams wouldn't be too keen to give a lot away. A draw may not disappoint either camps too much.
The home side appear in slightly better shape to record a win though, but it also depends on which Mumbai City turns up. If the right one does we are in for quite a game.
Updated Date: Oct 25, 2016 12:46 PM