After the final whistle at the Mumbai at the Mumbai Football Arena, Sunil Chhetri was the first person to walk towards the away stand as he apologised with folded hands to Bengaluru FC fans. The club was sitting on top of the table ahead of Sunday's match, never tasting a defeat in the current season. Mumbai were expected to give a tough fight to Carles Cuadrat's team, which they did and clinched the match 1-0. But what was more striking is the hollow performance from Bengaluru, unbefitting of the quality they had in their ranks. Chhetri's final act post the match made complete sense.
Bengaluru's star striker Miku is yet to make recovery from injury so he was not present in the match squad. Kean Lewis started the match with Cuadrat naming both Chhetri and Udanta Singh in the playing XI. Xisco Hernandez was used in a false nine role. Jorge Costa did not make any significant changes to his team. The influential foreign players of the team– Rafael Bastos, Moudou Sougou, Arnold Issoko and skipper Paulo Machado – all featured on the attacking front.
The match started on a scrappy note as both teams struggled to find rhythm after not playing together for more than a month. After 15 drab minutes, Bengaluru created the first good chance in the game. On both the occasions, full-back Rahul Bheke found space on the left side and exploited it. In the second instance, Bheke gave a delightful ball to Xisco in the box, but the attacker's not-so-powerful volley was tipped over by goalkeeper Amrinder Singh.
Those two chances clearly laid out the weakness of the Mumbai team. They were vulnerable on their right side and Bengaluru should've identified Sauvik Chakrabarti as the weak link. But the team failed to exploit it and on the 29th minute, they conceded from a counter-attack.
Mumbai players broke through from a Bengaluru FC corner, with Bastos releasing Machado on the right and the skipper made no mistake in converting the chance. It was a classic counter-attack goal, something that Costa would've definitely planned before the match. Mumbai players, to their credit, executed it to perfection.
After going down, Bengaluru players should've realised the threat Mumbai possessed. They should've upped the ante, especially in the centre where they had more experience and quality. Key players like Udanta and Chhetri went missing for most of the first half and Dimas Delgado was struggling to create all by himself. Mumbai went into the break with a deserving lead.
In the second half, it was Mumbai who looked the likely team to score as they tried to take advantage of the high back-line of Bengaluru. Sougou, who scored nine times for his team this season, got a great opportunity in the 60th minute when he broke the off-side trap and raced ahead to find in a one-on-one situation with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The Senegalese forward should've scored from that point, but Gurpreet did well to stop the effort and keep his team in the contest.
Bengaluru tried to make an impact with their substitutions, bringing in the likes of Chencho Gyeltshen and Boithang Haokip in place of Xisco and Udanta, but Mumbai defenders were up to the task. After their 0-5 drubbing against Goa in the early stages of the season, Mumbai's defence improved significantly. They kept as many as five clean sheets after the humiliating loss and conceded just four goals. Both centre-backs Anwar Ali and Lucian Goian were solid at the back, putting in important tackles.
Bengaluru raised the tempo in the final few minutes, but they failed to create anything substantial and Mumbai took home all three points, their eighth win of the season. The victory also put them on top of the table with 27 points, pushing down Bengaluru, who have played a game less and are on same points. It's an important victory for the home side, considering the fact that as many as six teams are vying for the top four spot. With the kind of application Mumbai showed on Sunday, they shouldn't face any trouble in sealing a top four spot.
Bengaluru boss admitted on Sunday that his side was the second-best and didn't create enough to break Mumbai's defence. Even physically, they couldn't match to their opponent's levels.
"Mumbai is a team which will sit and defend after scoring a goal and then try to hit on the counter. We could not execute our plan well and they could. It’s very hard to defend against them on the counter for 90 minutes as we know the power that they have on the counter attack,” Cuadrat said. Before the game, there were concerns regarding Chhetri and Udanta not getting enough rest after their campaign with the national team in the AFC Asian Cup. Cuadrar admitted that both players didn't have the best of game because they were not 'fresh'.
Bengaluru, by any means, are not in deep trouble and they could even end up topping the league. In a way, the defeat came at a right time when they could afford one. The team doesn't need any drastic changes, but Cuadrat will have to ensure the team doesn't take much time in finding lost momentum.
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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2019 09:27:11 IST