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  • Writer's pictureRitwik Khanna

Tactical Preview: ISL Final - Mumbai City vs ATK Mohun Bagan

In a testament to the global trend of the dominance of the richest clubs, the Hero ISL season eight final will be played out at the Fatorda on Saturday evening between Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan – the two clubs in Indian football with the deepest pockets. The two sides clashed for the League Shield and the coveted ACL spot recently on 28th February and it was the Islanders who emerged victorious. With that match and the closely contested semis still fresh in the minds of Sergio Lobera and Antonio Habas, the final will be played out on the tactical board as much as it will be on the field. We take a look at some of the key battles that will decide the outcome of the match.

Down the Line

Mumbai City were certainly second best over the 210 minutes of their semi-final against FC Goa. They were dominated in the midfield and their full backs, bar Amey Ranawade, found it difficult to deal with the attacking movements of the Gaurs’ full backs. In the first leg, Adam le Fondre started out of position on the right wing and offered next to no defensive support to Mandar Rao Desai, himself a makeshift right back.

Jorge Ortiz and Saviour Gama took full advantage of that, winning one penalty and scoring a goal respectively. Lobera corrected himself in the second leg, aided by the return from suspension of Ranawade. The more industrious Raynier Fernandes started on the right to protect the full back in the return leg. The Mariners’ preferred system of 3-5-2 is not ideal to exploit this area should Lobera decide to start both le Fondre and Bart Ogbeche again. Moreover, their attacking threat is more down their own right with Manvir Singh who has been excellent all season. The flip-side of Manvir’s attacking inclination is the space that the in-form Bipin Singh may get between him and the wide centre-back (likely to be Pritam Kotal)

Need for Speed

The centre-back pairing of Mourtada Fall and Hernan Santana is not the quickest and while Mehtab Singh offers a stable option, his inferior passing range and technical ability reduces Mumbai’s build up speed. Should the former pair start, Roy Krishna will be the clear favourite at chasing any ball down the channel or in-behind the defence.

Leading the press along with David Williams, Krishna will be likely to force a mistake and it is reasonable to expect Lobera to instruct his team to play long from the back. His ‘pragmatism’ in big matches has been showcased on several occasions and it would be no surprise if Amrinder sends it deep into the Mariners half from each goal kick.

Dead Ball Lifeline

The main defensive concern for ATK Mohun Bagan will be set-pieces. With Fall, le Fondre and Ogbeche in their ranks, Mumbai is arguably the most dangerous team from dead balls. The two goals which sealed the Islanders their league title less than two weeks ago were both scored from set-piece situations. NorthEast United also got the goal in the second leg from a corner.

Despite being one of the best shot-stoppers and 1v1 keepers in the league, Arindam has a problem dealing with crosses into the box. The performances of Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri will be key in making sure history does not repeat itself. The duo has looked shaky in recent weeks which is concerning for Habas as he cannot fit trust McHugh and Kotal in such a huge match.

Midfield (Dis)Connection

In the midfield, the technical superiority of the Islanders will almost certainly grant them the large chunk of possession. Whether the likes of Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous can break down the well drilled defensive line of the Mariners remains to be seen. At their best, they are irresistible. At their worst, their cagey and frustrated. We have seen both sides of the coin this season and you just don’t know which one it will be come Saturday.

Lobera’s reluctance to take risks in big matches combined with Habas’ preference for defensive stability is likely to make this an affair with few big chances. The two sides have more than enough quality to take advantage of these chances but the biggest of names fall flat on the biggest of stages. Less a game of football and more one of poker, who will blink first?

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