ISL 2020-21: Mumbai City FC, ATK Mohun Bagan promise mouth-watering clash with League Winners Shield at stake
The recent form gives ATK Mohun Bagan an edge over Mumbai City FC but Sergio Lobera's side have shown over the season that they are capable of almost everything. With the League Winners Shield and AFC Champions League group stage spot at stake, the fans are guaranteed a mouth-watering clash on Sunday.
Even the fixture makers would not have guessed that they were slotting essentially a final for the League Winners Shield and AFC Champions League Group Stage spot by making Mumbai City FC vs ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) the last league game of the 2020-21 season in the Indian Super League (ISL).
Mumbai City and ATKMB were favourites from the start of the season. A match between Mumbai and ATKMB is not only one of the most high-profile contests of this season but would remain the same for many upcoming editions. But the Sunday contest has a lot more running on it than just being a clash between two favourites.
When Mumbai put in a 12-game unbeaten run, who would be the League Winners Shield champion seemed like a foregone conclusion. But the league being true to its nature and Antonio Habas and his side being honest to their credentials have managed a comeback worthy of applause and one which makes the Sunday game a winner-takes-it-all contest.
Scenarios and recent form
ATKMB have 40 points from 19 matches while Mumbai have 37 from the same number of games. The winner would not only become League Winners Shield champion but also secure the prestigious AFC Champions League Group Stage spot. If it's a draw, ATKMB would be successful in permanently establishing the league supremacy for this season.
ATKMB enter the contest as strong favourites given their recent form. But Mumbai can never be discarded, especially this Mumbai which is owned by the City Football Group. Since the takeover, the owners have invested heavily in the squad with record signings and have Spaniard Sergio Lobera at the helm, a coach who has mesmerised us all with his footballing philosophy and execution.
Mumbai led the league table for the most part of the season and only lost the top spot in mid-February. However, the major concern for them is not their current position in the second spot but the results in the last few games.
In the five matches so far this month, Mumbai have lost two. Which accounts for 50 percent of their losses this season. In those five games, Mumbai have conceded 11 goals. In the 14 games before February, they had leaked a mere seven goals.
The defensive disintegration and Mumbai's inability to impose themselves on the opponents have largely been responsible for them trailing ATKMB but the Kolkata club also deserves all the credit for putting in an astonishing unbeaten run in the business end of the season, which has allowed them to take their fortunes in their own hands.
While Mumbai are struggling, ATKMB have been on a six-game unbeaten run. They have scored 15 goals in these six games, only 13 came in their first 13 games. They have the meanest defence in the league, having conceded just 13 so far. Their goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja has 10 clean sheets to his name, the most this season. Mumbai's Amrinder Singh is second with eight of them.
Habas' tactical changes
There have been few tactical and personnel changes that have set ATKMB on this excellent run of form. While Habas began the season with his preferred three-man defence that served him so well last season, the injury to Michael Soosairaj, the poor form of Prabir Das and the ineffectiveness of the 3-5-2 formation forced Habas into looking for other options.
Over the season, the Spanish coach has tried out a different number of strategies but the most successful for him has been playing a four-man defence and shoring up the mid-field to provide striker Roy Krishna more support. A team that often went into the game looking to sit back and hit their opponent on counter-attack has also seen a marked difference in their approach.
With the additions of Lenny Rodrigues and Marcelinho, ATKMB have started taking the game to their opposition. At times, Habas has even put four strikers — Krishna, Marcelinhio, Manvir Singh and David Williams — together on the pitch.
And ATKMB must aim to do the same on Sunday. They must look to attack Mumbai even if they only need a draw. Because when you play for one point, you end up losing all three. Habas needs to be wary of that, especially when you are facing an opponent of Mumbai's quality.
The recent form definitely gives ATKMB an edge going into the match but Mumbai players are also in high spirit after their 6-1 demolition of Odisha FC in their last game. With both teams looking to attack each other and aiming for the top spot, the fans are guaranteed a mouth-watering clash.
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