Following a stellar season where they won the ISL trophy and shield, Mumbai City FC is back in the hunt to defend their title with a new coach and many new faces in the team. Sergio Lobera, who led the team to their first silverware in club history, had earlier stepped down from his position in search of a more challenging opportunity. The Islanders opted to replace the Spaniard with Melbourne City FC’s assistant coach Des Buckingham. In addition to working with Oxford’s youth team and the New Zealand National Team, Buckingham has also coached at Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City FC. Read the team preview for Mumbai City FC below.
Assessment of Mumbai City FC’s transfer window
A rather disappointing transfer window for Mumbai City saw key players such as Hugo Boumous, Amrinder Singh, Bartholomew Ogbeche, and Jackichand Singh depart from the club. Hugo and Amrinder were signed by rivals ATK Mohun Bagan, while Jackichand and Ogbeche joined East Bengal and Hyderabad, respectively.
Mumbai needed to fill several holes and began by replacing Amrinder with FC Goa’s Mohammad Nawaz. Brad Inman, who had a disappointing season last year with ATK Mohun Bagan, was also signed along with Ygor Catatau and Cassio Gabriel from the Brazilian Second Division. After being shipped off to Odisha from Bagan during the winter transfer window, Inman has now joined the Islanders as their Asian player.
The 37-year-old Igor Angulo who won the golden boot with FC Goa last season has also been signed to replace Bartholomew Ogbeche. However, the most interesting deal Mumbai executed this summer was acquiring Apuia for a club-record fee. The 20-year-old was signed from North East United FC after he had a remarkable season with the Highlanders. Rahul Bheke was also a transfer window addition from Bengaluru FC to help fill in the defensive gap left by the departure of Hernan Santana.
Amrinder Singh’s departure from the club in the summer left a huge gap in both the goalkeeping and leadership departments for Mumbai City FC. The 27-year-old goalkeeper signed a long-term contract with ATK Mohun Bagan FC during the transfer window. Mumbai has nevertheless signed an equally capable goalkeeper in FC Goa stopper Mohammad Nawaz, whose contract had expired with the Gaurs. A good goalkeeper with his feet, Nawaz’s signing was something that Sergio Lobera would have certainly appreciated.
Des Buckingham will have both Nawaz and Phurba Lachenpa to choose from. Phurba displayed his outstanding talent during the penalty shootout in the semi-finals against Goa where he single-handedly bailed out the team and led them to the finals.
The Islanders also have Vikram Singh, who recently extended his contract. He has previously played for Mumbai’s reserve side as well as Fateh Hyderabad FC. With Phurba and Nawaz to choose from, the goalkeeping department won’t be a concern for Des.
Mumbai’s defensive mainstay Mourtada Fall is expected to be one of the first names on the team sheet come the new season. Fall, who was also the highest-scoring defender last season, played a very important role in Mumbai’s title charge. Fall was mostly partnered by Hernan at the back, but after the Spaniard moved to Northeast United FC, Mumbai has decided not to secure a replacement and have instead decided to trust their Indian options.
Rahul Bheke has been signed from Bengaluru FC and is expected to partner Fall at the back. Bheke has not been particularly impressive for India in the last few months, but under a different coach and a fresh team setup, he can prove to be a crucial member of Buckingham’s team. Mehtab Singh, 23, is expected to be one of the backups in defense. The youngster showed a lot of promise last season in the limited opportunities he received. Likewise, Valpuia, who spent most of the previous season on bench, will expect to see more opportunities at the back under a new coach.
The options Mumbai have at center-back will worry Buckingham. Apart from Fall and Bheke, the latter not being at his best right now, Mumbai does not have much depth in this department.
Mumbai have two quality fullbacks in Mandar Rao Desai and Naocha Singh on the left side. The latter won the I-League last season with Gokulam Kerala FC and was one of the best fullbacks in the entire league. Following an injury that kept him out for a large part of last season, Desai will hope for a successful return in this new iteration. Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, who filled in for Desai last season, is expected to be the second option after the former FC Goa defender.
Local boy Amey Ranwade and Mohammed Rakip will slug it out for the starting spot on the right side. Ranwade had a good season last year and will be Buckingham’s top choice for the right-back position. The 21-year-old Rakip was displaced from the starting eleven by Amey last season and will have to put in some impressive displays in the training if he is to start ahead of Amey.
Mumbai has several quality options in the full-back department, which is expected to be one of their strengths in the coming season.
Mumbai City FC received a considerable transfer fee for Hugo Boumous, who moved from City to Mohun Bagan this transfer window. They immediately invested the cash in youngster Lalengmawia Apuia, who had won the Emerging Player award last season. Apuia was a big hit for Northeast United FC last season and is now set to partner Ahmed Jahouh at the center of the field for The Islanders. Rowlin Borges, who has been one of Mumbai’s most important players over the past two seasons, signed a contract extension with them this summer and is expected to play a key role in Des Buckingham’s side this year.
Cassio Gabriel or Brad Inman is expected to be the main creator in the Mumbai team. Gabriel has been signed on loan from Brazilian side Vila Nova. A versatile player, Cassio has played as a left-winger, a midfielder, and even as a center-forward throughout his career. He recorded one assist in 12 appearances last season. Cassio will likely start at the attacking midfield position, with Buckingham possibly using Inman on the wings. Aside from a rare off-season last year at Bagan, the Australian had been an impressive force in the A-League, scoring and assisting regularly.
Following two seasons of limited game time, Asif Khan will hope to have a breakthrough season this year after signing for the club in 2018. The youngster impressed everyone in the U18 I-League for the Mumbai reserve side before earning a contract with the first team. Previously loaned out to TRAU and Sudeva Delhi respectively, Chanso Horam and Tondonba Singh are back with the team and will complete The Islanders’ midfield unit.
Raynier can also play in the midfield if necessary, but the 25-year-old had been more effective at the right wing position last season, as a result of which he is not expected to play much in the midfield any time soon amidst so many quality options available.
Mumbai has three good options in the midfield, and it will be interesting to see which combination Buckingham chooses. Jahouh and either Apuia or Borges can start with an attacking midfielder like Cassio or Inman, but the prospect of all three starting can also not be ruled out.
Mumbai City FC will have a new pair of strikers up front this season after parting ways with both Ogbeche and Le Fondre. Igor Angulo, last season’s golden boot winner, will be accompanied by Ygor Catatau from Brazil. The latter appeared in 27 matches for Serie B side EC Vitoria last season, ten of them as a starter, and scored three goals and provided one assist. Angulo and Ygor, along with one of India’s most promising forwards Vikram Pratap Singh, will together make up a formidable attacking force.
In addition to them, there will be Bipin Singh and Gurkirat Singh on the left wing. Bipin had a great season last year racking up six goals and four assists. Gurkirat, who can also play as a left-back, was brought over from the Indian Arrows. The youngster was greatly admired at his former club. Inman and Pranjal Bhumji will also be options on the wings for Mumbai City FC along with Raynier Fernandes, who is expected to keep his starting spot on the right wing.
Despite the departures of Ogbeche and Fondre, Mumbai still has a quality forward line and with Buckingham’s preference for an attacking style of play, the fans can once again expect a lot of goals this season.
Possible line up
Strengths and weaknesses
Despite the departure of coach Sergio Lobera, and players like Amrinder Singh, and Hugo Boumous, Mumbai City FC continues to have a formidable set of players ready to defend their title. Having players with ISL experience like Jahouh, Angulo, and Mourtada Fall at disposal will serve as a significant advantage for Mumbai City FC. The defending champions also have a lot of quality on their wings, with players like Bipin Singh, Mandar, and Ranwade providing pace and flair down the flanks.
However, with Mourtada Fall being the lone established center back in the Mumbai squad, defense will be a major concern for Des Buckingham and co. Bringing in a new set of foreigners and a new coach does not help Mumbai’s cause as well, since the players will take some time to adjust to the new conditions.
Probable finish in the league table
Despite Sergio Lobera and many other key players leaving Mumbai, the team is still considered as one of the favorites to win the title. The other clubs have significantly strengthened themselves and Mumbai is not expected to have an easy route in defending their title with teams such as ATK Mohun Bagan ready to snatch it away from them. At the very least, The Islanders are expected to finish in the top four this season.
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