A League Of Their Own – Bagan and Mumbai set standards in ISL


The 2023-24 ISL season came to an end with Mumbai City beating Mohun Bagan Super Giant to lift the ISL trophy. Similarly, Mohun Bagan defeated Mumbai City on the final matchday of the league to surpass them in the table and lift the ISL Shield. The two teams had dominated the league from the very beginning, and it was only fitting that they competed for both trophies until the very end.

Mohun Bagan – ISL Shield winners

Mohun Bagan embarked on the 2023-24 ISL season with renewed vigor and a squad overhaul. The departure of key players such as Tiri and Anirudh Thapa necessitated significant reinforcements. To bolster their ranks, the Mariners secured the services of talents like Armando Sadiku and Jason Cummings, signaling their ambition for domestic and continental success. The Mariners also brought in Hector Yuste and young Indian center-back, Anwar Ali to replace the outgoing Tiri and Bagan’s own Pritam Kotal. Mohun Bagan pulled off a massive coup when they announced that one of the best young Indian talents, Sahal Abdul Samad would be joining them from Kerala Blasters.

Finally, Mohun Bagan added Anirudh Thapa from Chennaiyin FC to stabilize the midfield after Carl McHugh left the Mariners to join FC Goa. Juan Ferrando was tasked with taking this new, albeit star-studded squad and achieving success.

Mohun Bagan

The campaign began optimistically, with Mohun Bagan clinching the Durand Cup, a trophy that had eluded them for 23 years. This triumph, highlighted by Dimitri Petratos’ heroics in the final, instilled confidence in the squad and supporters alike. However, the real litmus test awaited them in the ISL.

Mohun Bagan stormed out of the gates in the ISL, going unbeaten in their first seven matches, with six wins under their belt. Their early dominance showcased their potential to challenge for the league title. Moreover, their aspirations extended beyond domestic glory; they aimed to make a mark on the continental stage, having faltered in previous AFC Cup campaigns.

The Mariners’ ambitions suffered a setback when injuries sidelined key players like Anwar Ali and Ashique Kuruniyan. Their absence destabilized the team, leading to a string of disappointing results. A shocking defeat to Bangladeshi side Basundhara Kings and a 5-2 thrashing by Odisha FC in the AFC Cup spelled early elimination from the tournament.

Juan Ferrando, entrusted with steering the revamped squad to success, faced mounting pressure as Mohun Bagan’s fortunes dwindled. With the team faltering both domestically and in Asia, the management made the tough decision to part ways with Ferrando. In his place, the club turned to familiar territory, appointing former coach Antonio Habas to salvage their season.

Habas wasted no time in implementing changes to rejuvenate the squad. One notable decision was the inclusion of Joni Kauko, who returned after a 14-month absence due to injury. Kauko’s reintroduction injected fresh impetus into the team, altering their style of play and reigniting their competitive spirit.

Under Habas’s guidance, Mohun Bagan experienced a resurgence, securing crucial victories that propelled them to second place in the league standings. As they prepared for the final showdown against Mumbai City FC, the Mariners found themselves on the cusp of a historic achievement—the opportunity to lift the prestigious ISL Shield for the first time.

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In a title-deciding clash against Mumbai City FC, Mohun Bagan delivered a stellar performance, emerging victorious to claim the ISL Shield and etch their names in Indian football history.

Following their triumph in the ISL Shield, Mohun Bagan entered the ISL Cup final with high hopes of securing a historic domestic treble. However, their aspirations were dashed as they faced Mumbai City FC once again in the final showdown. Despite a valiant effort, the Mariners were outplayed by their opponents, succumbing to a defeat that denied them the coveted treble.

Despite a disappointing continental campaign and a heartbreaking end to the Mariners’ season, Habas’ men showed a lot of character towards the latter half of the season, delivering results when the situation called for it. Lifting the Durand Cup and the ISL Shield will mark a successful domestic season for Mohun Bagan, with fans already excited to see what the Mariners have in store next season.

Mumbai City – ISL Trophy Winners

The 2022-23 ISL Shield Winners, Mumbai City FC, were confident of their chances of leaving a mark on the current campaign as well under Des Buckingham, under whom the Islanders broke quite a few records on their way to winning the Shield. The Islanders played an attractive brand of football under Des, which became synonymous with their domestic success.

The Islanders, after having created history by becoming the first Indian club to win an AFC Champions League game, wanted to leave a mark on Asia’s premier club competition this campaign. The excitement and anticipation were further intensified by Mumbai City drawing Asia’s best club, Al Hilal, in the group stages of the AFC Champions League.

A League Of Their Own - Bagan and Mumbai set standards in ISL

Mumbai City began their season having brought in quality reinforcements for the squad. Ahmed Jahouh, Mourtada Fall, and Raynier Fernandes were among those who left the club ahead of the current campaign. The Islanders responded with the signings of Yoell van Nieff, Nasser el Khayati, and Tiri, among others. Buckingham also pulled off the magnificent transfer coup of the young, talented full-back, Akash Mishra from Hyderabad FC.

Mumbai City started their title defense well, going unbeaten in the league by November. However, it was a very contrasting tale in the AFC Champions League where Des Buckingham’s team had lost all 4 of their games, conceding 13 goals and scoring none.

In a shock to the Islanders faithful, reports emerged that English League One side Oxford United were looking to sign Mumbai City head coach Des Buckingham. The official announcement came on November 16th as Des Buckingham’s highly successful era at Mumbai City came to an end.

The City Football Group hired Melbourne City FC’s assistant coach, Petr Kratky, to lead Mumbai City in their title defense in the league. Under Kratky’s leadership, Mumbai City remained loyal to Buckingham’s 4-3-3 formation and embraced a possession-focused strategy similar to their previous approach. The Islanders launched relentless attacks by overwhelming their opponents’ half, predominantly utilizing the wings. In the final third, they often ventured deep into the flanks, delivering precise passes to their strikers inside the penalty box.

On the defensive end, Mumbai City maintained a deep line and defended with a significant number of players congesting the box. Remarkably, the Islanders boasted the league’s best defensive record, conceding just 19 goals during the regular season.

Things were not made easy for Kratky as January saw some high-profile exits from the club. Their overseas contingent of Greg Stewart, Nasser el Khayati, and Rostyn Griffiths all departed from the club with Iker Guarrotxena being the only incoming transfer.

Petr Kratky took the approach of trusting the Indian players he had, and the trust was repaid in faith by the domestic youngsters. Lallianzuala Chhangte had an outstanding season in the league, scoring 10 goals and assisting 6 more, recording the highest goal contributions by an Indian player in the league.

Youngster Vikram Partap Singh also announced himself to the world by seizing the opportunities given to him by Kratky. The 22-year-old made 23 appearances while scoring 8 goals and recording 4 assists in the process. The two Indian sensations were involved in the stoppage-time heroics that saw Mumbai City beat Odisha FC to secure their spot in the ISL final.

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Mumbai City were dominant in the league, losing just 3 games. However, the final loss came against Mohun Bagan on the final matchday of the ISL league campaign which saw the Mariners pip Mumbai City to the title by just 1 point.

Despite the agonizingly close finish to the Shield race, Mumbai City made sure that the same would not happen in the ISL final. The Islanders stuck to what they’ve been doing best under Kratky – playing fast-paced, possession football.

The Islanders overloaded the flanks and kept creating chances till they finally paid off. Mumbai City would turn a 1-0 deficit to win the ISL final 3-1, courtesy of goals from Jorge Diaz, Bipin Singh, and Jakub Vojtus.

Despite the uncertainty in the team with major changes taking place mid-season, Mumbai City still managed to have a successful domestic campaign, winning their second ISL cup. The Islanders will be witnessing a major overhaul of the squad ahead of next season as we look forward with anticipation to what Mumbai City have in store for us.

Follow IFTWC for more updates on Indian Football.

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