There is a lot to love about the goal that separated Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan on the night, the goal that opened up a five-point lead at the top of the table for City. The run from Hugo Boumous was sensational, all shoulder drops and shakes of hips and defenders grasping at thin air. His backheel was even better, an ingenious touch that delicately prised open up the league's meanest defence. The finish from Bartholomew Ogbeche was top class -- opening his chest as he received the ball, leaning back just the right amount, curling it first time into the top corner. All things considered, it was a right proper match-winning goal.
What you may have missed, though, is something that probably identifies this as peak Lobera-ball more than anything. Just before Boumous pulled off that backheel, he played a one-two with Hernan Santana inside the ATKMB box. That's Hernan Santana, centre-back. When the ball went into the goal, it was Boumous, Ogbeche, and Santana in the box. Why?
Well, there's a reason Santana took it upon himself to not follow the ATKMB counter in the first instance, why he moved into a position that made him the most advanced Mumbai player on the pitch when the reverse counter happened, why he then knew exactly what to do when Boumous nudged the ball to him. It's Sergio Lobera.
No manager in the league insists that his players go out and express their footballing capabilities quite as much as Lobera. He knows there's risk to giving his players this level of freedom, but he also appreciates the payoff. Nay, he craves it.
It's why Lobera plays a natural winger like Raynier Fernandes in central midfield and asks him, and everyone around him to keep moving forward. It's why his fullbacks act as auxiliary wingers rather than the other way around. It's why an attacking line-up on paper often turns out to be even more attacking on the pitch. It's why a Lobera 1-0 is the polar opposite of a Habas 1-0.
Fun, freedom, risk. Lobera-ball.
Hernan Santana espoused that philosophy like no other on that pitch on Monday. It wasn't just the pre-assist, either. For most of the game, especially the first half, he waltzed around the park, dropping shoulders on the half-turn inside his own box, pulling off full-spin roulettes in ATKMB's half, doing what he wanted, where he wanted. He sparked play with intelligent runs and smarter passes. As per the ISL matchcentre, he completed 57 passes in the 90, the second highest on his team. No ATKMB player got to even half that number.
It wasn't that he didn't do his day job well -- Roy Krishna barely got a touch on the ball, so well was he marshalled by Santana and Mourtada Fall -- but that his moonlighting as central midfielder made it even easier. Can your goal ever be safer than when Krishna is busy tracking your run deep into his own half? It's that old Ajax-Barca school of thought at its finest, possession as the best form of defence -- "if your opposition don't have the ball, they can't score."
On Monday, ATK Mohun Bagan rarely had the ball. Hernan Santana always seemed to be on it. And at the end of the day, that made all the difference.
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