Both Teams are Blowing Hot and Cold…
Most previews tend to focus on the last games of the contending teams to determine their “forms”. But, form by definition is how the teams have been performing in the last few games. Generally, I would analyse the last 4 to 5 games but I find that excessive since every Indian Super League franchise only plays 18 games total. I feel looking back at the last 2 games provides a good education on the two teams’ forms. Looked at through that lens, both Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC are blowing hot and cold.
While their results have differed, they’ve both turned up as Jekyll and Hyde in their last two games. This is why I’ve termed this game as the game of Jekyll and Hyde. Both teams are capable of winning this but who wins will depend entirely on which face they decide to grace us all with.
Mumbai City FC’s 2nd Chance for the Playoff Spot
Mumbai City FC blew the opportunity of breaking into the top four in the last game. They’ve got that chance handed to them again. Yes, the cruel and wicked football gods can also be kind sometimes. A victory with a 3+ goal margin will see MCFC pip FC Goa to the 4th spot on the table. They may even climb over FC Pune City with a rout of Bengaluru FC but I seriously doubt that will happen, especially with the Jekyll and Hyde equation in play.
MCFC have had a strange couple of games recently. Against Jamshedpur FC, they played poorly but still managed to get a point while against Kerala Blasters FC they were imperious but failed to get a point. Their fans must be hoping that they suck in this game looking at the last two games. If they suck enough, they may get 3 points. I kid, of course.
The KBFC game was an anomaly. Rarely do you see a team dominate like that and not earn a point. KBFC, of course, were helped by that cheeky goal from Iain Hume. There were suspicions of offside in that goal in my opinion. MCFC, of course, weren’t even helped by the goal post. And, when MCFC had the ball in the net, it was disallowed.
The JFC game was also an anomaly but from the opposite perspective. MCFC didn’t do enough to get a point in that game. They only got one because of the individual brilliance of Thiago Santos.
Bengaluru FC and the Top of the Table
Like MCFC could’ve broken into the top four before their last game, Bengaluru FC had the chance to claim the top spot before their last match. Like MCFC, BFC messed it up. The Jekyll and Hyde analogy is more realistic in the case of BFC because they lost when they didn’t perform and won when they did.
They lost their game to Delhi Dynamos FC (surprises eh?) and actually got dominated by the Pride (more surprises, eh?). It was a tactical faux pas from their manager in that game that allowed DDFC to snatch the initiative. I believe BFC got complacent with DDFC and, hence, paid the price. Against ATK, BFC dominated the game and got their just rewards in the single goal and the win.
Regardless of whether you’re from the West Block Blues or beholden to Manjappada, you have to admit that BFC are one of the best teams in the league right now. They deserve to make it to the playoffs on evidence of their showing so far. Having said that, I’m not surprised that Kerala Blasters FC are only four points behind.
The thing is, though, both teams need to stop focusing on each other and start focusing on their respective opponents. While I understand that it is their fans that have created the rivalry by virtue of being the biggest fan groups and being located down south, I do believe that fan rivalry boils down to the players and starts affecting them.
These effects are usually psychologically net negative and should be something that BFC management considers seriously. Needless to say, local players will be affected more by the rivalry and the competitive abuse on and off the internet than foreigners.
How Will MCFC and BFC Play?
Would you believe it, both teams have a similar pragmatic style of play. It is more obvious in the case of MCFC who like to change their formations on the basis of their opponents. I have seen them set out the usual 4-2-3-1, the conventional 4-4-1-1 and even the trendy 5-3-2-1 with bombing wing backs.
I can’t claim to know what formation MCFC will start with in this game but it will most probably be the standard 4-2-3-1. I think they’ll use this formation because of the threat posed by BFC midfield and Miku. 4-2-3-1 with two defensive midfielders should be able to nullify the BFC midfield as well as Miku’s tendency to drop into midfield. For when Miku decides to stay forward, they will always have the defensive proficiency of Lucian Goian to fall back on.
BFC will, themselves, start with the 4-2-3-1 formation albeit without resting their key players. I expect both Erik Paartalu and Udanta Singh to be back in the starting line-up in this game. BFC never tinker with their formation. They’re quite set in their ways like that. They do tweak how they play within that formation, though. So this should be interesting because this game has all the hallmarks of a chess match.
How BFC fare in this game depends not on Miku but their midfield. BFC have gradually climbed the passing and touches charts in the league to become the second most proficient team in both those tables. This means that their midfield has done well against most opponents. I want to see whether MCFC can stifle BFC’s midfield in this game.
Simultaneously, I want to see how Goian deals with Miku. Miku is the second highest scorer in the league with 8 goals but he hasn’t scored for two games, remember. As I said earlier, I think Miku will have to do a lot to get past Goian. That man is a defensive beast and I think Miku will have a tough time today. Goian is clocking some crazy stats till now. He has the second highest interceptions in the league (21, 2.1/game), highest tackles (65, 6.5/game), and the fourth highest in fouls (25, 2.5/game).
Goian’s stats are reflective of MCFC as a team. MCFC leads the league in tackling and fouling both. They’re even second highest in yellow cards in the league. Roca would’ve seen this and would know what it means. It means that MCFC will foul a lot and will play straight into the set piece strengths of BFC.
This is where MCFC’s keeper also comes into play. The team from the financial capital of the country relies heavily on their keeper. They have the highest saves in the league. Amrinder Singh is deceptively crucial to MCFC. They would be bottom of the table if not for his saves. Amrinder leads the league with 33 saves! That’s nearly 4 saves every game!
Here’s my prediction. There is a high probability that this game will break the “fouls” record in the league till now, especially with Balwant Singh chipping in through his offside fouls. It will be very stop-and-start. There will be no flow to it. There will be lots of free kicks and the goals will probably come from them. There’s also a good chance that BFC’s league record of 0 draws will break in this game.