Ahead of the current Indian Super League season, both Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters FC had all the reasons to be optimistic. Mumbai had reached the play-offs in the previous edition of the tournament, playing a decent, pragmatic brand of football. Kerala Blasters had just appointed a new coach in the shape of Eelco Schattorie, a man whose reputation for attractive football was quite well-known thanks to his tenure at Northeast United.
But with a third of the league's 18 mandatory matches played, things have not quite turned out as expected for both these teams.
Placed at seventh and eighth spot in the table respectively, having secured just one win apiece, both teams are in desperate need of points heading into their clash at the Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday, a fact that Mumbai coach Jorge Costa readily admitted to.
"Both teams will be under pressure, but pressure is a part of football," said Costa in the pre-match press conference, adding, "I can be honest and say we’re playing under pressure. It’s because we really need points, we need to be close to where we should be. This is a part of the job. If we cannot handle the pressure, it’s best you don’t work in football. I don’t know what is happening with the other coach, but this is our situation right now."
The last few weeks have been particularly frustrating for Costa, whose attempted transition into a more attacking style of play this season has been hindered by terrible lapses in concentration from his players. Mumbai have been playing well offensively, scoring two goals in each of their last four matches, but have also conceded at least as many on every occasion, a trend which has much to do with this individual errors from players in the dying embers of matches. In fact, the only team to have let in more goals than Mumbai this season is Hyderabad FC, who are currently rock-bottom in 10th place.
"It’s always a problem when you don’t win games and lose points because of individual mistakes. The important thing we need to take away from these last few games is that overall we’re playing well," said Costa.
"We’re fighting, we have a lot of quality, but we’re losing important points because of small mistakes. But this is the easiest thing to do, to fix these small mistakes. The most difficult thing is to play good football, which is what we’re already doing. As a team, I’m very happy with their performance," he added.
Focus on the present, says Jorge Costa
While the results are not quite as promising on the pitch as Mumbai City would have hoped, off the pitch, the club has made some serious strides in recent days. On 28 November, the club announced a partial takeover by the City Football Group — a consortium that also owns the likes of English champions Manchester City, America's New York City FC and Spain's Girona FC. Costa, however, warned his players on the eve of the upcoming match against Kerala to not get wrapped up in thoughts about the future, and instead focus on the present, saying, "As a head coach, I cannot allow talk about the Manchester City takeover to distract my players and myself from the task at hand."
He did go on to add that the takeover was a sign of better things to come, admitting that he himself has given the announcement some thought. "I’m sure people in the club are thinking about how it could change the way this club works, and what is in the future for us. I myself took out 10 minutes to think about it. It’s a good thing, of course it is. Tomorrow will be better than today."
Injury-ravaged Kerala Blasters look for a launching-pad
Kerala's results so far have been pretty similar to those of their opponents, with their sole victory of the campaign coming in their opening fixture, where they beat ATK thanks to a brace from Bartholomew Ogbeche. Since then, the goals have dried up for the Blasters, who have scored just three more times in five subsequent matches. Perhaps the most disappointing of their results in recent weeks was their 2-2 draw against FC Goa, where they led the match for half an hour, before conceding a late equaliser in the 92nd minute.
To be fair to them, the Blasters have had to deal with some rotten luck, and a series of injuries to crucial players have forced Schattorie's hand to an extent, causing him to repeatedly make adjustments to his starting XI, a problem to which there is no solution in sight. With key defenders Gianni Zuiverloon and Jairo Rodriguez already ruled out, Schattorie also has to manage without the services of Mario Arques and Moustapha Gning in midfield, both of whom are vital cogs in the club's set up.
Schattorie expressed his frustrations with the ever-expanding injury list ahead of the match, saying, "It's a simple reality and I'm a bit annoyed by the scoreboard analysis. We have played six games and every time I have to take a step forward, we have had to take two steps back. This has got to do a lot with the injuries."
On Thursday (5 December), the Indian Super League will witness a game that sees a team that has lost both its away matches travel to face a team that has lost both of its home fixtures. While it may not seem that there is much to be excited about, the stakes are sky-high, and this match could be a launching pad for the victor's resurgence.
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Updated Date: Dec 05, 2019 13:55:05 IST