"We have two options: to win or to win" was the clarion call by boss Jorge Costa for his Mumbai City FC players two weeks ago ahead of the home match against Jamshedpur FC. Costa laid the down the marker with his uncompromising words in the pre-match press conference as campaign's survival was at stake. On Thursday, the war cry remained the same, Mumbai players have been given the same options by the gaffer. But this time it's not just about surviving, it's about thriving.
The Islanders take on in-form Chennaiyin FC in their last group game on Friday at the Mumbai Football Arena with the top four spot on stake. It will be recorded as a league game in the books but it's nothing short of a virtual quarter-final. FC Goa, ATK and Bengaluru FC are already into the semi-finals. Mumbai have 26 points from 17 games while their opponents have 25 from 16 matches. And the winner of the tie on Friday would seal a playoff spot. A defeat would knock Mumbai out of the race, but won't bring the same news for Chennai, who would still have a game in hand to change their fortunes. A draw would keep both teams interested but would also bring Odisha FC back into contention.
On balance of things, Chennaiyin have enough firepower to see off Costa and his men. And fireworks is probably the best way to describe the current form of the two-time champions. After a horrendous start to the season under the popular John Gregory, the club from South India were placed at the ninth position, looking down the barrel, so to speak. Gregory had to leave and the incoming Owen Coyle has since scripted a miraculous comeback.
Chennaiyin are undefeated in their last six games, winning five out of them but what has stood out in this unbeaten streak is their ruthless record in front of the goal. Nerijus Valskis, Rafael Crivellaro, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Andre Schembri have been in tremendous form with the team scoring 18 goals in their last six matches. The attackers are expertly facilitated by a midfield duo of Anirudh Thapa and Edwin Vanspaul. They are not even bad at the back as well with former Mumbai player Lucian Goian marshaling the defence.
"Chennaiyin, in the last few games, are a different team from the beginning of the season. Especially after changing the coach (Coyle), they changed some players and the way that they play, they are doing very well," Costa said about their opponents on the eve of the match.
Chennaiyin have the momentum, form and morale behind them as they walk into the match. They arrived in Mumbai after securing a comprehensive 3-1 win over ATK in Kolkata, a club which was aiming for the top spot in the league. However, with the playoff spot just inches away it's important for the Chennaiyin players to steer away from playing for the "occasion."
“We don't have to try anything different. We have been winning games by doing the same things. Tomorrow is about playing the game, it is not about the occasion. We have to make sure that we are able to do the things that have brought us here through hard work and dedication. Then the quality fits in. Not the other way around," explained manager Coyle at the pre-match press-conference.
But regardless of Chennaiyin's form, in a do-or-die situation, the odds stacked against you matter for little. Mumbai come into the match on the back of an embarrassing 5-2 defeat to Goa but their season has been a testament of their fight to stay alive in the league. Mumbai also had a poor start to the season and seemed to have lost their way midway with injuries piling up but have since then picked themselves up. Unlike Chennaiyin, it has not been a goal-scoring riot or streak of undefeated matches for them. But it has been a campaign of picking up crucial wins when required to keep the wind blowing in the sails.
"If we win it, we will be inside the top four for sure. So at this moment, I am happy. I have 90-to-95 minutes to win one (this) game and I'm sure that we will do it. We are doing our best every day hoping that finally, we can say that we are in the top four," said a confident Costa.
Just as form matters for little in fight for life, stats also are nothing more than numbers. But numbers are reflection of what is possible. Chennaiyin have not won at the Mumbai Football Arena in three attempts while Costa has never lost to Coyle's team. On top of all this, Mumbai also boast a 100 percent record in their last three home matches. On the other hand, Mumbai have struggled against sides with free-flowing football at the heart of their game — Goa, and Odisha. Chennaiyin belong to the same breed. And they would clearly have the upper hand in this all-important clash but we know Mumbai would fight hard. Cause, as Costa, so succinctly put it, their only options are the win or to win.
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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2020 12:28:06 IST