ISL 2022-23 semifinal: How Bengaluru FC can beat Mumbai City to reach the final

Sunil Chhetri scored Bengaluru FC's winner in the first leg of the semifinal against Mumbai City FC. Vipin Pawar/Focus Sports/ISL

A semifinal at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Bengaluru FC generally don't lose these. In five previous semifinal home legs in all competitions, they have not lost a single one, winning four and drawing one.

On Sunday, Bengaluru welcome Mumbai City FC to the place they call their Fortress. Sunil Chhetri's goal at the Mumbai Football Arena gave Bengaluru a 1-0 win in the first leg, and now, as their coach said on the eve of the second leg, their biggest motivation is that they are potentially 90 minutes away from another Indian Super League final.

The first leg was a fascinating clash of styles, and Simon Grayson doesn't expect that to change. "We will play in our way, I don't think Mumbai will change the way they play," he said.

Where will the semifinal be won for Bengaluru? We examine three important factors.

Shackling Greg Stewart

There's not much to be said here. Greg Stewart is Mumbai City's, and arguably the league's, best player. In the first leg, Bengaluru's approach seemed to revolve around starving Stewart off space and suffocating him in the centre.

Stewart had 83 touches of the ball, only Vignesh Dakshinamurthy had more. But apart from a chance he created with a through ball for Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Bengaluru managed that threat well.

"Stewart is strong, he is a top player," Bengaluru midfielder Suresh Wangjam said. It was the youngster's performance in the first leg that went a long way in maintaining that clean sheet. He snapped into tackles, cut off Stewart's passing lanes, and ensured the Scot was always kept at arm's length.

But Stewart has seven goals and seven assists this seasons, with his ability to conjure magical moments on his own. If Suresh and Co. can produce 90 more minutes of minimising Stewart's impact, then Bengaluru will likely be on their way to Goa for the final.

Winning the battle of the wide areas

Lallianzuala Chhangte and Bipin Singh have scored 16 goals and provided eight assists between them this season. A large part of the Mumbai City gameplan has involved the two wingers using their speed to run in behind the opposition.

In the first leg, Prabir Das set the tone early in the game, with a crunch block on Bipin inside the box in the first minute. "We didn't let them get into our box, we defended second balls really well," Suresh said.

Grayson praised both Prabir and his fellow wing-back Naorem Roshan, but said that Bengaluru's defending would always depend on the structure that the team plays with.

"It's about how we work as a team. As individuals, everyone needs to win their battles, but it has to be within the structure of the team," the Englishman said.

The effect of the two Mumbai City wingers did sometimes shackle the two Bengaluru wing-backs and prevented them from going forward, especially in the first half of the first leg. But in the second half, both Prabir and Roshan did their bit in attack. Roshan got forward and tried to attack Rahul Bheke, whereas it was Prabir's shot that led to the corner from which Bengaluru scored their winner.

Exploiting spaces on the counter attack

There's no two ways about this - Mumbai City are chasing this tie, and there will be enough opportunities for Bengaluru to hurt them on the counter attack.

Grayson was clear that he expects Des Buckingham's side to dominate the ball, as they generally do, but was also confident in his side's ability to find spaces and create chances.

There is the Sunil Chhetri headache which only gets bigger, with the number of crunch goals he's scored recently, but young Sivasakthi Narayanan's tireless running in behind has given Roy Krishna a new lease of life this season.

Grayson did say that he hasn't changed his starting XIs too often because he hasn't felt the need to. Should that continue in the second leg, then Chhetri's experience later on in the game could prove invaluable. The captain changed the complexion of the game in the first leg just with his excellent positioning and use of the space which Mumbai City had left behind in search for their goal.

For a team that has scored 54 goals this season, Mumbai City won't panic just yet, but the longer Bengaluru keep them scoreless, the more desperate they could become. And if they do, then Javi Hernandez, Krishna, Sivasakthi and Chhetri will have a thing or two to say.