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ISL 2020-21: Mumbai City can be stopped — if Ahmed Jahouh, Hugo Boumous are kept quiet

ISL 2020-21: Mumbai City can be stopped — if Ahmed Jahouh, Hugo Boumous are kept quiet


Updated: 13 March 2021 4:39 AM GMT

"Today, (Ahmed) Jahouh's send off was a big problem for us. It changed the game, he is an important player and we missed him," Sergio Lobera admitted after Mumbai City FC suffered a shock defeat at the hands of NorthEast United FC in the second match of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21.

The scoreline will suggest that NorthEast got the better of Mumbai but don't get it wrong. Lobera's team was far superior, pressing well in advanced positions, playing out from the back impressively through Jahouh and Hernan Santana, and generally looking dominant for the majority of the first half at least.

Till the moment Jahouh was on the pitch, Mumbai dominated. He was dictating the game alongside Rowllin Borges and Hernan Santana, he controlled the midfield and NorthEast could do little but wait for Mumbai to commit a mistake and lose possession. But once he departed, NorthEast found their foothold.

Mumbai's problem was turning that dominance into clear-cut goalscoring chances. Their problem was Jahouh's tackle on Khassa Camara, the one with the studs up, that invited the referee to give him the marching orders.

So Mumbai went in 0-0 at half-time, a man down, when their tactical performance had merited a lead. In the second half, they didn't look like scoring. It wasn't that Lobera was not fielding a genuine creator, someone capable of turning a promising situation into a dangerous one.

jahouh Ahmed Jahouh's red card was a big gamechanging moment (Source: ISL)

Hugo Boumous, arguably the most creative player in the ISL, had been signed for a substantial fee just for that reason. Having generally used 4-2-3-1 last season at FC Goa, Lobera's use of Boumous in the final third had worked brilliantly there and he had hoped for the same at Mumbai. However, here it didn't work as much.

Boumous was not, in literal terms, necessarily bad — he wasn't misplacing passes or shooting waywardly or taking poor touches. He simply didn't receive possession in dangerous zones, he wasn't involved, because NorthEast knew what was coming and Gerard Nus' organised plan was based entirely around stopping Mumbai from playing through the middle.

"Our style of play is non-negotiable. We want to play in the same way. In the next game, we will have 28 players but that's no excuse. I think my players can play in different positions like today Adam (Le Fondre) was playing on the right. But I think he has the experience of playing in different positions and it will help us a lot in the coming games," Lobera asserted.

"Obviously, we need to improve. We need to keep calm in some situations. Today, our attitude was very good but sometimes we need to think before making any sudden decisions. We have had a short pre-season and have short time between the games but it's my job to improve the level of my team and I am very positive," he added.

Thing is, however attractive the style is, and however much he can talk about improving the overall level, in Lobera's team, if Jahouh and Boumous misfire like they did on Saturday, everything can easily fall down. The duo's job is to link the play between midfield and attack. When it didn't work, the side became compartmentalised and lacked cohesion.

Gerard Nus NorthEast United's coach Gerard Nus praised his team's fighting spirit (Source: ISL)

It would be unfair to say that Mumbai only lost because they were reduced to 10 men, because they lost Jahouh off all the players. Credit where it should go, Gerard Nus' NorthEast showed they are here to fight, they are here to compete.

Before the start of the season, Lobera's team was looked upon as one of the title contenders, someone who would be unstoppable this campaign. Hell, FC Goa's Edu Bedia even commented that if Mumbai didn't win all matches, it would be considered a failure for them.

But in reality, the Islanders can be stopped and Nus' NorthEast showed exactly how. They did not try to rush things, they let Mumbai enjoy possession and play freely in their own half. However, not an inch of space was left for the likes of Bartholomew Ogbeche and Le Fondre and as mentioned earlier, Boumous was not allowed to get involved in dangerous positions.

"I think we played a very competitive game," Nus commented after the game. "We knew what to expect from a brilliant side like Mumbai City, and we followed the plan. The players did a fantastic job and I am so pleased. This is just the start but we need to keep improving a lot of things at the same time."

"We said that we are going to be a team that's going to fight, that will never give up and today, we have seen just that."

"A penalty, a send off are moments that happen in football, moments that can make things go in one favour or the other. If you just relax, a team like Mumbai will punish you," he added.

Indeed, Mumbai do have all the ingredients to punish when Boumous and Jahouh click. But can they sparkle when those two are kept quiet? Can the likes of Ogbeche and Le Fondre directly influence games under Lobera's style of play? Only time will tell, it's going to be a long season.

Also read: NorthEast United 1-0 Mumbai City FC - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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