Mumbai: On 24 October, 2018, a ruthless performance from FC Goa handed Mumbai City FC what turned out to be their heaviest loss of the 2018-19 Indian Super League season. After some soul searching and tactical changes, Mumbai embarked on a nine-match unbeaten run which effectively sealed their playoff berth.
Skip ahead to the 1 February, 2019 where Mumbai, who were on a scintillating run of form, had the chance to avenge their humiliating 5-0 loss to Goa. Regardless, Goa once again came out on top with a clinical 2-0 win knocking the wind out of Mumbai’s sails. The Islanders could only win one of their remaining four matches. It is safe to say that Goa have had a huge impact on Mumbai’s fortunes this season.
Therefore, their semi-final match-up has all the makings of a classic battle: a Mumbai side keen to make up for their disheartening losses up against a Goa side eyeing to stamp their class over Mumbai once again.
After the 5-0 hammering at Goa, instead of letting the season slip away from their grasp, Mumbai put on a nine-match unbeaten run which also saw them beat the then unbeaten Bengaluru FC at home. At one point, it seemed like Mumbai manager Jorge Costa, with his pragmatic approach, could lead Mumbai to a top of the table finish until Goa came calling once again. A solid Mumbai side were left to rue their defensive errors.
The Islanders form and confidence took a hit as they ended the league stage on a losing note. However, their unbeaten run was enough for them to finish the league stage in third place and qualify for the playoffs.
Despite Goa beating Mumbai 7-0 on aggregate over the two matches in the league stage, both Costa and Goa assistant coach Jesus Tato believe that the semi-finals will be markedly different.
“I learned something in these two games and I‘m sure my players also learned something from the two games. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a different story. We know how to lose against them so we’ll try to change things this time around,” Costa said in the pre-match press conference.
Costa stopped short of calling Goa the best team in the ISL but also said that he believes his side is on a similar level despite the drubbing they received in the league stage.
“Goa have a very good defence, a very good midfield, a very good attack and a very good coach. They have a very good team. It’s the same story with us. It’s true that we lost 7-0 in two games but I don’t think Goa are on a different level than Mumbai. I think we are very similar,” Costa said.
Both teams have identical defensive records having conceded only 20 goals this season, the least after NorthEast United. However, given their pragmatic style when compared to Goa’s free-flowing style of play, Mumbai have scored 25 goals, 10 fewer than Goa’s tally of 35. The two teams have also been reliant on their strikers to get them over the finish line. 12 of Mumbai’s 25 goals this season have come from Modou Sougou while the ISL’s top-scorer this season, Ferran Corominas, has scored 15 of Goa’s 35 goals.
Like Costa, Goa assistant coach Jesus Tato chose not to delve too much into the two sides’ past meetings lest his side become complacent. The former FC Pune City player acknowledged the tricky situation of playing a two-legged knockout match and played down his sides wins against Mumbai earlier this season.
“It (feeling of complacency) is something that we have talked about with the team. Our wins were in the league stage but now it is different. In the 180 minutes in a tough playoff, every little thing matters and we’re looking to make them count,” Tato said.
Though both teams have similar attacking and defensive records, what sets them apart is their distinct style of play. While Costa’s pragmatic approach has transformed a Mumbai side that stagnated under Guimaraes, Lobera built on his side’s success last season to make them a more complete side. The Gaurs, though brilliant on the attack, were guilty of leaking as many goals as they scored. This time around, Lobera has managed to plug those defensive holes which has seen Goa being able to transition from defence to attack, quickly and effectively.
Costa’s approach to the game is very similar to his Porto manager Jose Mourinho. Under the Portuguese, Mumbai have been cautious and are content to sit back and wait for their opponents to err. With the pace and excellent understanding between Sougou, Arnold Issoko and Rafael Bastos, Mumbai have been devastating on the counter. Their 5-0 mauling of Kerala Blasters at home was the perfect display of Costa and Mourinho’s playing philosophy.
However, like the Barcelona team which enjoyed considerable success against Mourinho, Goa have shown that they are more than equipped to nullify and exploit Costa’s style.
Historically, Mumbai have been one of Goa’s favourite teams to play against. Over the past five seasons, Goa have only lost thrice in 10 matches winning four times and drawing thrice. Mumbai’s 19 goals conceded against Goa is the most by Mumbai against an ISL team. Goa also boast a superior defensive record against Mumbai having conceded only eight goals — the least they have against an ISL team — as well as keeping seven clean sheets, once again the most by the Gaurs against an ISL team.
Goa are also one of the most consistent sides in the history of the ISL having reached the semi-finals in all but one edition of the league. To add to their advantage, Goa have been patient with their coaching staff and have managed to retain a solid playing core which has helped them to develop a footballing DNA of their own. In contrast, Mumbai have only made it to the playoffs once in 2016 under Alexandre Guimaraes.
Even if Costa believes that both teams are evenly matched, there can be no doubts that Goa have the psychological edge over Mumbai. That Mumbai’s unbeaten run was inspired as well as ended by two clinical defeats at the hands of Goa shows the impact the Gaurs have had on the Mumbaikars. Costa will have to use his experience of playing in high-stakes Champions League knockout matches during his time at Porto to ensure that his team is mentally prepared to face a Goa side that defined their season.
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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2019 14:17:30 IST