With the fifth season of the Indian Super League fast approaching the end of its league stage, Mumbai City FC and NorthEast United FC will be looking to take a vital step towards qualification for the playoffs when they come up against each other at the Mumbai Football Arena on Wednesday.
Second-placed Mumbai head into this match with the better head-to-head record, strengthened by their victory in the reverse fixture in November thanks to an early goal from Congolese winger Arnold Issoko. NorthEast United have failed to win an away match since way back in November, when they eased to a 2-0 win in Pune and have only won one of their last seven matches.
However, when asked if this would give Mumbai a slight advantage over their opponents, Portuguese coach Jorge Costa replied in typically brusque fashion, saying, "I'm not so stupid. Of course, it won’t be an easy game. We’re talking about one of the best teams in the league, playing some of the best football in the country."
"They have some incredible players, both Indian and foreign, especially foreign. I’m not stupid enough to think this could be easy, I’m not a fool," he added.
Costa's cautious approach can probably be attributed to the fact that Mumbai have also had their fair share problems of late, after a nine-game unbeaten run was brought to a crashing halt by successive defeats against FC Goa and Jamshedpur FC.
His Dutch counterpart, Eelco Schattorie, was slightly more optimistic when questioned if Mumbai's faltering form could benefit the Highlanders, saying, "It could be the best time to play against them. The last two games, they’ve had some key players missing, which had an influence on the game. Overall, they’re quite predictable, we know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are."
"But yes, we have our own problems to deal with. It’s going to be a difficult game for sure, but we’re going for the three points, and hopefully, we can get one step closer to qualification," said Schattorie.
Schattorie mentioned that Mumbai were extremely reliant on a few players, pointing to the absences of Modou Sougou and Issoko in the losses against Goa and Jamshedpur respectively.
He further went on to highlight the importance of midfielders Rafael Bastos and Paulo Machado, saying, "The speed of the two attackers down the centre (Sougou) and the right (Issoko) will be something we’ll look out for. In the midfield, our Brazilian friend (Bastos) can pass the ball very well and so can Machado. They have very predictable patterns, but to eliminate them isn’t easy.
"It’s like with Lionel Messi. You know what he’s going to do, but you can’t stop him. I’m not comparing these players with Messi, of course, but you get the idea. We’re prepared for them, so we’ll see how it goes tomorrow," added the Dutchman.
With three games left in the season for both teams, the last three playoff spots still have five teams realistically in the hunt for qualification. With Goa, NorthEast and Jamshedpur breathing down their necks, Mumbai are under a great deal of pressure, but that hasn't seemed to have had an effect on Costa.
"It’s the same pressure. Every week you have less games remaining, and every week, the pressure is higher than the week before. But this is our life, so we need to know how to deal with it. That’s why we’re in this line of work, because we deal with it every day. We're going to do our best," said the Mumbai head coach.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Feb 12, 2019 21:36:55 IST