Bengaluru FC host Mumbai City FC in the second leg of the Indian Super League semifinal at the Sree Kanteerava stadium on Sunday, March 12, 2023.
Here is how Mumbai City can make the ISL final:
What is the situation?
Mumbai City travel to Bengaluru trailing 0-1 from their first leg (which was strangely at home), which means nothing but a win (whether in normal time, extra time, or penalties) will do for the runaway league shield winners. What they need to do is unprecedented -- no one has beaten Bengaluru in a home ISL semifinal leg in the Kanteerava; but there's no team better equipped to pull of the unprecedented than Mumbai City.
How exactly can they do it?
Patience; and stick to plan A.
On Tuesday it had been going pretty okay till Sunil Chhetri scored in the 78th minute. Only one team looked likely to score in the last 12 + minutes and that wasn't the one chasing the game.
Mumbai made three changes - taking off two central midfielders and an out-an-out winger to bring on a playmaker most comfortable in the attacking third and two strikers masquerading as wingers. What this led to was a collapse in shape and structure -- which then resulted in chance creation completely drying up. There were a lot of square pegs in round holes and Bengaluru easily kept them at a comfortable distance.
So, what about that Plan A?
Oh, yes. So - Mumbai's plan A has been relatively simple. The front six have well defined roles: Ahmed Jahouh sits deep and pulls strings. Apuia runs everywhere and wreaks havoc. Bipin Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte keep their width and take on fullbacks at pace. Jorge Pereyra Diaz plays on the shoulders of the centre-backs and in that vast space in midfield just behind him, Greg Stewart does what he wants, how he wants to.
Against Bengaluru, the major difference was that Diaz kept floating deeper and deeper, in an attempt to find space against the giant wall that is the three centre-back defence Bengaluru play. That merely helped Bengaluru squeeze the playing area into a manageable size. That would then be the first thing Mumbai must do: keep Diaz high up, and ask him to stay there. However, they can't spam floated crosses into the box - their Argentine striker has little chance of winning headers against the giants in the BFC defence, despite his endeavour.
It can't be that simple, surely?
In attack, it really is. This is a team that scored 54 goals in the 20 league games, a record in the league's short history. They know where the back of the net is, and they should trust the process that made it all happen all season.
The problem is that they are up against the absolute form team in the land. 10 games played, 10 games won and Bengaluru FC are purring -- Sivasakthi Narayan stretches defences and Roy Krishna flat out bullies them. Sunil Chhetri comes off the bench and brings with him an intensity that is rarely matched. Give Javi Hernandez time on the ball and he'll run rings around you. And their set pieces continue to be the best worked in the league.
Mumbai, though, showed in the first twenty minutes that they can be kept penned back - so it's imperative that they score when they have periods of dominance.
A big thing that's going for them is that they are no longer rusty. They went 16 days without a game as they waited for the first leg; but now they are warmed up and firing. Arguably, this is why their manager was not at panic stations.
Do they have any injury woes?
Nope. The first-teamers are fit and will not want to end what has been an incredible season so early in the playoffs.
What does the coach say?
"It was a one-off game, and my team will give a reaction. The good thing is, apart from the set-piece we had control of the game and created chances. We have got a group of players who know exactly what we need to do, and the beauty of knockout games is that it always presents you with a chance, so we are ready and so are the players," said Des Buckingham at the pre-match press conference.
"I expect a very similar game, and it does not change what we need to do (win the game), so it (the plan) does not really change too much, and we will go to Bengaluru and give everything we have to come away with a win. It is important that the lead is small, we have goals in us, so I am very much looking forward to the game on Sunday."
"We have played three times this season, and this was the first time we have not managed to get a goal against them. We do create chances, now we need to finish those chances and get better in those final moments. We have had some time to rest, the players are hungry, and so is the staff, and we are sure of doing different things to get through the game and win it."