Mumbai City got off to an inauspicious start to the new ISL season, losing 2-0 at home to Jamshedpur FC. It was an odd game, in that the Islanders had the ball in the net twice, but were foiled by the offside flag, and also forced Subhasish Roy Chowdhury into some good saves, and yet ended up on the losing side. David James’ Kerala Blasters side, on the other hand, were clinical in their 2-0 away win against ATK, combining a solid defensive structure with efficiency in front of goal. This is arguably exactly what new Mumbai City manager Jorge Costa wants his side to achieve, and therefore this clash should be a tight, engrossing one.
Kerala Blasters look to consolidate
With an away win safely in the bag, David James and Kerala will look to make their home fans happy as they host Mumbai City for their first game at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium this season. James set the side up in a solid 4-1-4-1 formation, with Nikola Krcmarevic shielding the back four and allowing the front five to get on with their job of creating and scoring goals. It seems quite likely that the Englishman will go with the same set-up for this game, and possibly with an unchanged side. Keep an eye out for young Sahal Abdul Samad; James name-checked him in his pre-match press conference and stated that he was very happy with his performance. Expect the youngster to look to control proceedings in midfield, while Matej Poplatnik’s instincts were on display in their opening fixture as he got ahead of ATK defender John Johnson to grab a free header with both hands (not literally speaking).
Mumbai City need to take control
Jorge Costa’s side were outplayed for large parts of the game at the Mumbai Football Arena, as they struggled to break down Jamshedpur FC’s three-man defence. Debutants Paulo Machado and Modou Sougou were inconsistent, with Sougou missing a gilt-edged one-on-one chance in the second half. Machado showed glimpses of his skill with some gorgeous touches to get away from his markers, but was mostly on the periphery of the game, struggling to get on the ball consistently. Rafael Bastos, on the other hand, was completely anonymous in the number 10 role, although the blame for that does fall on Mumbai’s midfield as they failed to get the ball to the Brazilian in threatening areas. Costa will have been pleased with the performance of his Romanian centre-back Lucian Goian though; he was easily the Islanders’ best player on the pitch, making crucial tackles and interceptions, and even setting up a couple of good chances with his accurate passing from the back. He also went close with a header from a corner, and while the armband may now be in goalkeeper Amrinder Singh’s possession, Goian is very much the leader on the pitch, and Mumbai will need an inspired performance from him to come away with anything from Kochi.
Kerala Blasters: Dheeraj Singh, Mohamad Rakip, Sandesh Jhingan, Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Lalruatthara, Nikola Krcmarevic, Seiminlen Doungel, Sahal Abdul Samad, Halicharan Narzary, Slavisla Stojanovic, Matej Poplatnik
Mumbai City: Amrinder Singh, Sauvik Chakrabarti, Lucian Goian, Marko Klisura, Subhasish Bose, Sanju Pradhan, Paulo Machado, Mohammed Rafique, Bipin Singh, Rafael Bastos, Modou Sougou
Both sides are expected to name unchanged sides, with Kerala’s 4-1-4-1 system facing up against Mumbai’s 4-4-1-1 formation. Sandesh Jhingan remains a rock at the back for Kerala, while Krcmarevic, Samad and Stojanovic look to be the key players for the Blasters. Mumbai will rely on Lucian Goian and Amrinder to keep Kerala out, but they need Bipin Singh to build on his display against Jamshedpur, and for Sougou to take the chances that come his way.
Mumbai City have failed to win in Kochi so far in the ISL, and are also on a three-game losing streak. This, combined with the Blasters clinical opening-day win, makes me plump for the home side in a 2-1 win.