Mumbai City FC will enter this season as clear favourites. With a fresh outlook and strategy, the Islanders are looking strong as ever.
After six disappointing seasons, where the club only managed to reach the semifinals on two occasions, Mumbai City has finally put together a squad which can compete as title-contenders, mirroring the one in 2016 where they topped the league table. After FC Goa sacked their successful coach Sergio Lobera towards the end of the 2019-20 season, Mumbai City FC were quick to acquire his services and appoint him as the head coach of the club.
The club retained some of the Indian players, as Bipin Singh, Raynier Fernandes and youngster Asif Khan extended their contract for two, three and four years respectively. Players like Amrinder Singh, Rowllin Borges, Sourav Das, Sarthak Golui, Valpuia, Bidyananda Singh, Pranjal Bhumij and Vignesh Dakshinamurthy were in contract for the season already.
Bringing in Sergio Lobera is easily the best decision made by the club this season. If there’s someone who has tasted success in Indian Football whilst bringing a revolution in the way football has been played in Indian Football, it is Lobera. His style of play at FC Goa left everyone in awe as their brilliant tiki-taka won them admirers as well as many matches. Since taking over the club in 2017-18, Lobera took the team to the playoffs every season, finishing 3rd in 2017-18, 2nd (because of head to head record against Bengaluru) in 2018-19 and 1st in 2019-20.
To complement Lobera’s style of play, the club had to sign players who could adapt to his philosophy. In the goalkeeping department, the club signed Phurba Lachenpa from Real Kashmir as Amrinder Singh’s deputy. Reserve team keepers Vikram Singh and Nishit Shetty were called up to fill in as the third and fourth mandatory goalkeeping options.
Defensively, there were a lot of surprise signings. FC Goa club icon Mandar Rao Dessai follow Lobera to the club and will take over the role of Subhasish Bose, who signed for ATKMB. Senegalese centre-back Mourtada Fall, who was critical for FC Goa’s success, also made his way to the club. While the fans expected another foreign centre-back, the management and the coach sprung a surprise as they didn’t go for another foreign defender, implying that Sarthak Golui will be trusted to guard the defense of Mumbai City FC in his second season as an Islander. Last season, the right-back position troubled the club as they had to try out multiple options but none of them were much successful in stopping the opposition. Hence, young gun Mohammed Rakip was signed from Kerala Blasters. Mehtab Singh, Valpuia, Tondonba Singh are other defensive options while reports of Amey Ranawade joining the club have emerged too.
Mumbai’s midfield is inarguably the best in the league this season. From last year’s squad, Raynier Fernandes was given a three year extension and youngster Asif Khan was handed a four year extension. Rowllin Borges, Mumbai’s shining light in a rather dismal season, along with Sourav Das and Bidyananda Singh will also be present in the squad. Mumbai City FC made four crucial foreign signings in the midfield. Ahmed Jahouh and Hugo Boumous were signed from FC Goa, with Mumbai paying a record transfer fee of 1.6 crores for the latter. Both of them have been one of the best midfielders in the league and will be immense for the team. Hernan Santana, who played under Sergio Lobera in Las Palmas in the La Liga, comes on loan from Sporting Gijon. For the Asian signing, Mumbai roped in Japanese Cy Goddard on loan from Serie A club Benevento Calcio. Goddard plays as an attacking midfielder and also on the right wing, with his dribbling and pace instrumental in creating chances for the team.
Mumbai also brought in proven goalscorer Adam Le Fondre on loan from Sydney FC. A lot of eyes are on him, especially after his exploits in the A-League for the past two seasons. Bartholomew Ogbeche also signed for Mumbai, making the team very dangerous attacking-wise. Ogbeche has scored a lot of goals in the ISL for Northeast United and Kerala Blasters, and would probably be a backup for Adam. On the wings, Farukh Choudhary and Vikram Pratap Singh are two explosive options. Bipin Singh, Ayush Chhikara and Pranjal Bhumij will be the backups for the forward line.
Mumbai City FC’s strength lies in their midfield and their forward line. With a lot of options to tinker around with, Sergio Lobera must be happy to have a problem of plenty. However, the defense seems to be a worry. The Islanders struggled defensively last season as their only foreign centre-back Mato Grgic was sometimes injured and not impressive the other time. This year too, the backups aren’t too experienced and any injuries might create problems for Mumbai.
If Lobera plays with his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, this might be his best lineup.
Mumbai City FC Probable Lineup
With the kind of strong contingent Mumbai City FC is possessing, they are title contenders without any doubt. A lot of eyes will be scrutinizing their performances and their gameplay, and if everything goes according to plan, Mumbai might taste its first bit of success in football after many years of waiting.
Feature image includes creatives owned by Mumbai City FC.