On 10th November, Northeast United had the wonderful opportunity to see themselves at the top of the table in Indian Super League. A win against Mumbai City would take them one point ahead of the current league leaders ATK. In the meantime, Mumbai City was looking for its first win in four games. In this tactical analysis, we will examine Northeast United’s game plan. The following analysis will reflect upon Robert Jarni’s tactics and ideas for the game.
Northeast United made just two changes from their 1-0 win against Hyderabad. Subhasish Roy Chowdhury started between the sticks. A back four of Reagan Singh, Mislav Komorski, Nim Dorjee Tamang and Rakesh Pradhan. Milan Singh and Jose Leudo played alongside Redeem Tlang and Panagiotis Triadis. Martin Cháves and former Premier League striker Asamoah Gyan made the front two.
Jorge Costa set his side in a 4-1-4-1 which showed glances of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 in the match. He too made two changes after the 2-4 loss at home against Goa. Amrinder Singh wore the gloves with an unchanged defence of Souvik Chakraborty, Pratik Chowdhary, Sarthak Golui and Subhashish Bose in front of him. Rowllin Borges and the Senegalese Pape Modou Sougou replaced Rayneir Fernandes and Bipin Singh. Paulo Machado and Mohamed Larbi joined to form the midfield three. The Brazilian Diego Carlos played on the left with former Bundesliga striker Amine Mohamed Chermiti.
Northeast United in possession (Attack)
Northeast changed from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-4 when they were in possession. Hence starting out from the back Chowdhury always had four options to play ahead. However, he showed his bias in directing the majority of his long passes to Triadis and Gyan. Given his strength and aerial abilities, Gyan understandably contested in 12 aerial duels. To his match was Mumbai City’s Borges contested in 10 aerial duels winning eight of them. As Northeast gathered the ball in the opposition half, both wingers Triadis and Tlang narrowed positionally providing quick support to Gyan and Cháves.
As the ball approached the final-third, Northeast’s Reagen and Pradhan were quick to support their respective wingers. The full-backs helped by either playing quick one-twos with Triadis and Tlang or making overlapping runs on the wings. Mumbai City defended with seven players while keeping three players as rest attackers for counter-attacks. Also, Northeast’s wingers were playing at the edge of the box; this gave the full-backs a free pass to move up-front. Both Reagan and Pradhan delivered five crosses each. The team relied on crosses to get the ball in the box. The full-backs contributed well by supplying 10 of the 19 crosses played in the game.
Northeast were always eager to shoot, trying to test Amrinder Singh from distance. Any space offered in front of the goal was an indication for Northeast to shoot, irrespective of the distance. The team took seven of their 12 shots from outside the box. Gyan’s hold-up play was handy in this particular move. Three of his passes led to a shot from his team-mates. Their brave attempts were not just from zone 14 but even from behind that zone.
Northeast United out of possession (Defending)
Against Mumbai City’s Build-up
While Mumbai City liked to play short from behind, the Highlanders retained their 4-4-2 on losing possession. Borges played as a pivot and was the catalyst for getting the ball forward. It was necessary for Gyan and Cháves to protect the space in the centre around Mumbai’s Borges. They forced the movement out-wide to full-backs who then had the only option to go long. As a result, their ultimate possession stood at 40%. They were passive in their pressing and allowed Mumbai’s back three (including the goalkeeper) to circulate the ball. Their pressing intensity shows the same result as they allowed 14.4 passes on average per defensive action.
However, they did surprise Mumbai City with a sudden change in intensity as the ball reached the midfield third. As a result, this led to an error from Machado who gifted the possession to Cháves. As the wide defenders struggled to get back in shape, Cháves played a nice through ball for Gyan. Thus, Gyan scored the equaliser for Northeast making it 2-2 on the scoreboard.
Defending in their own half
Mumbai City swiftly moved to a 4-2-3-1 on getting the ball. Larbi who played as an LCM drifted higher playing close to Diego as a CAM. Hence it was important to control space in front of the last line of defence. But the second line of defence and the backline were uncoordinated and asymmetric. This offered a lot of space to Mumbai City to attack from the centre.
Although Northeast’s backline was well structured, the midfield line didn’t show the same characteristics. The second line of defence opened gaps and passing lanes for Mumbai City because to them being unorganised. Given the lack of compactness between the lines, it encouraged Mumbai’s wingers to drift inside centrally. They were allowed time to pick their passes and create numerous attacks. This un-organization of second-line and increased distance between the lines could have proven to be very costly for Northeast.
Defence to attack
Northeast’s last line was robust and strong in defending. They didn’t take any risks on winning the possession and tried to get the ball ahead as quickly as possible. Gyan dropped to flick those aerial balls for sprinting Triadis to counter-attack. However, if the midfielders won the ball then the backline stretched wide to give them options. This would normally see the distribution go wide for full-backs to carry the ball further.
Attack to defence
Having committed their full-backs forward Northeast were always vulnerable on transitions. Mumbai City’ Sougou didn’t contribute much defensively as he stayed up with Chermiti. On winning the possession, both Chermiti and Sougou drifted apart forcing the Northeast defenders to open space in the centre. Late joining Larbi and Diego added more to the attack and played simple through balls for their forwards to pick. The higher position of full-backs and no defensive midfielder to cover the width led to Northeast giving up on their lead to Mumbai.
The Highlanders had the most impact from throw-ins than any other set-pieces with the left flank being most influential. Pradhan took 13 throw-ins in the game with most of them delivered vertically down the lane. Triadis and Cháves were the dummy supporters to attract Mumbai City’s players. Gyan joined late and dragged the RCB along with him. This created space in the centre for Triadis and Cháves to attack the second ball. In the first 10 minutes of the game both the players took a shot from the outside the box through this strategy. Mumbai City’s Chakraborty mishit the second ball which gave the chance to Triadis to hit a thunderous strike into the back of the net.
Northeast conceded seven corners and two free-kicks in their own half. Mumbai City tried to push the defensive line in the six-yard box to make it difficult for Northeast to defend. However, what baffled the most was their defensive organisation in a deep free-kick. Mumbai had four players in the box and Machedo on the ball. Northeast had one marker for each player instead of setting a line of defenders. Visually five players stayed outside the box marking no one. This made it easier for Machedo to decide where to deliver the ball. As he struck the ball long in the penalty area, Tamang was drawn towards the ball while Chermiti made a run. The defender misjudged the bounce of it and saw the ball get past him. Chermiti scored an acrobatic goal to give his side the lead.
Northeast United didn’t experiment much when they attacked. They had a player-centric approach with their dependency on Gyan in the attack. The midfield line didn’t connect with the back-line in defence and they were lucky to not be punished by Mumbai City on those occasions. Mumbai City had the control but couldn’t establish their dominance. At the end both the sides picked one point each as they deserved.