December 8, 2021

ISL 2020-21: Resilient NorthEast United shut Mumbai City down

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Mumbai City won only the possession battle on Saturday…

Mumbai City had 65 per cent of the ball against NorthEast United in their first 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) match on Saturday. Excellent and expected right? Well, they also registered zero shots on target and lost the game 0-1. 

It was a much-awaited peep into Sergio Lobera’s new-look Islanders and the team news did not disappoint. The starting lineup was designed to dominate the game and that’s what it did. 

Both Adam Le Fondre and Bartholomew Ogbeche started upfront with Hugo Boumous in behind. Hernan Santana and Sarthak Golui formed the defence and Ahmed Jahouh seemed to have been instructed to do whatever he wants to do on the pitch – which was supposed to be a good thing for football lovers because he is such a delight to watch on the ball very often. 

Jahouh took control of the midfield right from the off. He turned up in all areas of the pitch, looking to receive the ball, turn, look for a teammate’s run and find him. And then he lost his composure just before the break and Mumbai CIty’s gameplan was ruined. 

If ISL creates a highlight reel of the first half between the two teams, it’d mostly be Jahouh receiving and producing passes. In the 43rd minute however, he lunged into a dangerous slide tackle on Khassa Camara near the centre circle and the punishment was deservedly a straight red card. It was a blow to a dominant Mumbai City. 

Not that both teams were creating plenty of clear-cut chances – there were next to none in the first half. But had Mumbai City continued to dominate with 11 men, it is not ridiculous to conclude that they would have been more likely to break the deadlock. But it wasn’t to be. 

NorthEast United came out after the break and just turned out to be even more resilient than they already were. The midfield led by Camara and the defence led by Dylan Fox were very particular about denying Mumbai City space to operate. The likes of Mandar Rao Dessai and Hugo Bomous struggled to get free from an alert Ashutosh Mehta. Upfront, Luis Machado threatened with his runs and crosses. One such cross after the break found Fox in the box whose header hit the arm of Rowllin Borges. The result was a spot-kick. 

Kwesi Appiah made no mistake from 12 yards and registered a goal on his ISL debut. 

The fans who expected a strong comeback were disappointed as, even with the 41 minutes left for the game to end, City couldn’t conjure a shot on target. They took 10 shots compared to Northeast’s seven but none in the right direction. They also completed 552 passes compared to the winning team’s 292. 

As is the case with Kerala Blasters under Kibu Vicuna, it is a matter of players settling in and adapting to a new setup. Nus’ men had no such issues with their approach as they were happy to drop deep to defend and showed excellent organisation and discipline at the back to keep out a top-heavy Mumbai City.