"Forlan is dangerous. Maybe he had better times before. If Mumbai are paying a lot of money for him maybe is dangerous," Atletico de Kolkata coach Jose Molina had quipped on Monday. A day later, the Atletico manager ought to have revisited his words after the former Uruguayan international's goal condemned Atletico to a 1-0 defeat at Kolkata's Rabindra Sarobar stadium on Tuesday.
Atletico de Kolkata, coming into this match on the back of their unbeaten run in the third season of the Indian Super League, were the favourites against a depleted Mumbai City FC side, but looked jaded and rustled for most of the match. While complacency and fatigue contributed to Atletico's below-par showing, much could be attributed to Mumbai coach Alexandre Guimaraes' tactics which stifled all aspects of Atletico's gameplay.
Both clubs started the match on an even footing, looking to attack – Atletico's Sameehg Doutie and Iain Hume trying to find space between the channels and Mumbai's Sony Norde hitting a couple of early (albeit wide off target) shots. As the half progressed, Mumbai began to dominate possession, with Atletico resorting to play on the counter.
Guimaraes chose to play with Lucian Goian, Anwar Ali and Aiborlang Khongjee in a three-man central defence. Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte was tasked with tracking Doutie while Sehnaj Singh ensured Abinash Ruidas and Javi Lara were not able to influence the play through the left flank.
Variations of the 3-4-3 formation, as noted in numerous European football matches in recent times, most strikingly in Antonio Conte's teams, are arguably some of the finest ways for defensive organisation, swift midfield transitions as well as dominating play between the channels - all three of which were perfectly executed by Mumbai City FC.
The pivot of Borja Fernandez and Stephen Pearson, which was extremely efficient in Atletico's 1-1 draw against FC Goa, was rendered useless as Mumbai City FC outnumbered Atletico in central midfield. Lara was all but absent as he struggled to influence the match. Ruidas, one of the promising Indian talents in attack, was isolated on the left wing and gave away possession on a number of occasions.
With Forlan dropping deep to create while Kristian Vadocz pushed forward to provide a passing outlet, Atletico were flustered. Not only did Mumbai impose their physical presence, winning aerial challenges and outmuscling the Atletico players off the ball, they also used the space left by the Atletico players between the channels, taking advantage of the fact that Borja and Co rarely pressed in tandem.
The absence of Matias Defederico and Forlan's shaky form compelled the visitors to rely primarily on Norde, and the Haitian delivered big time. Starting the match on the left wing but mostly playing upfront as a lone striker, Norde was at his slippery best. The Mohun Bagan star might have hit the target on only one out of his five attempts, but was the most dangerous Mumbai City FC player on the night.
Mumbai's best chance in the first half fell to Norde when the 27-year-old's shot from the edge of the penalty box was saved by the excellent Debjit Majumder after a patient build-up involving 12 passes had unlocked the Atletico defence. Forlan broke the deadlock in the 79th minute with a composed finish after Norde's deflected shot fell to the Uruguayan in the six-yard box, but it was the Haitian who had beaten two Atletico defenders to create the goal-scoring opportunity.
It was only after they had conceded did Atletico start to play with the fervour expected of the home side. Molina's side threatened Albino Gomes' goal more frequently in the last 10 minutes than they did in the 80 minutes prior to that.
Atletico's best chance of the match, however, came through a Hume-led counter-attack in the first half when the Canadian's pass found Doutie in the opposition final third but the South African slipped just as he lined up for a shot, allowing the Mumbai City centre-halves to clear the danger.
Throughout the course of the campaign so far, Molina has expressed his confidence in his attacking players in spite of poor finishing, for a flurry of chances have been created, but on a night when Atletico's creativity had dried up, assistant manager Bastab Roy was forced to admit Hume, in particular, was worried about the "lack of goals from open play".
The Canadian striker had a difficult time leading the line as Mumbai City FC defenders took a leaf out of Atletico's book maintaining a compact shape for the entire period of 90 minutes. Every time Hume was in possession, two or three 'Blue Shirts' closed in on him, recovering the ball or forcing Hume to pass backwards.
As Hume lost his temper for not receiving support from the officials for perceived fouls, Mumbai City's plan to stop him could have very well reminded the 32-year-old of his days back in second division of English football as the high-profile encounter resembled a scrappy British football match for the majority of the match.
"We had to plan our line-up differently and I think we managed well. We took precautions and later reduced their game to just crosses and we managed well with the defensive players that we had," a jubilant Guimaraes told reporters after the match, while Roy, deputising for Molina, asserted there was no reason to panic and attributed Mumbai's win to the "chance factor".
The Atletico camp might have refused to acknowledge their shortcomings against a team who were without as many as three first-team regulars, but Mumbai City FC had outwitted and outplayed the home side, in the process ascending the summit of the league standings with 11 points from seven matches.
Updated Date: Oct 26, 2016 13:35:44 IST