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ISL 2020-21: Pragmatist Habas and Purist Lobera - Who takes the cake?

ISL 2020-21: Pragmatist Habas and Purist Lobera - Who takes the cake?

Sayan Chatterjee

Published: 2 Dec 2020 3:37 PM GMT

The Indian Super League (ISL) is slowly gathering steam with most teams still getting into their groove inside closed doors in Goa. In the first couple of weeks however, most of the talking points have been around two eccentric characters in charge of two teams with completely contrasting styles of play. We’re talking about Antonio Lopez Habas and Sergio Lobera.

With the lack of a proper pre-season, most teams were counting on the friendlies before the start of the tournament to get some minutes under their belt. Habas however had other plans. ATK Mohun Bagan’s head coach was of the opinion that the conditions were not conducive for practice games, and instead chose to focus on working with the players in training.

As a result, his side looked a little rusty in the opening game against Kerala Blasters and lost the ball on numerous occasions. Even then, the way he set his team up and their general compactness in defence meant that a clean sheet was never in doubt. And when you have players like Roy Krishna in your side, you will end up converting half chances more often than not. And that is exactly what happened. The Fiji captain got one chance to get a shot away and buried that opportunity to give his team the three points.

In the second match against SC East Bengal, Bagan looked more like themselves. They were compact as usual, but they also worked the opposition midfield well, overloading players on one side and creating space down the other. It was Roy Krishna again who got an important goal before Manvir doubled the lead. They sit second on the table now with 6 points from two games and all the talk about lack of practice and a fluent playing style seems to have gone out the window.


Then there is Sergio Lobera. The Mumbai City gaffer is renowned for being extremely meticulous about the way that he wants his team to play. You’d be forgiven to think that all he thinks about every living second of his life is keeping possession. But there’s more to it than just that. His team is the perfect modern day embodiment of pass-and-move football. The way he trains his players to manipulate the opposition and lull them into a false sense of security before pulling out that perfect pass is absolutely praiseworthy. Mumbai City of course have players who can single-handedly decide a game but the fact that they all somehow seem to fit into his philosophy speak volumes about his man-management as well as his understanding of the game.

In their first match against NorthEast, it was touch and go in the end as the Islanders went down to a penalty after Ahmed Jahouh was sent off. Even then, one could see Lobera’s influence on the team’s gameplay right from the offing. In their second match against Goa, it was more of the same as they registered their first victory. Then came the match against SC East Bengal, and everyone was once again reminded of the champagne football that the Spaniard can make his teams produce.

Mumbai were absolutely ruthless as they made light work of a struggling East bengal defence and scored three. Each of those goals had the signature Lobera stamp on them. While the first was through a long ball from Rowlin Borges and then some good work from Hugo Boumous, the second was a result of Boumous’ intelligent movement after Jahouh found him with a brilliant pass. The third was the pick of the lot though, and was reflective of the intelligence that Lobera demands from his players. Jahouh attempted an audacious free-kick with the outside of his right foot which Boumous cut back inside the box for Hernan Santana to blast home.


Which brings us to the question, how are two sides so different in their ideology doing so well at the same time? The answer to that is simple. Football is a simple game in essence, if you create a lot of chances, you end up scoring and winning more often than not. Also, if you are efficient with the few chances that you get and are compact otherwise, you win too. Lobera tries doing the former while Habas is more akin to setting his team up for the latter. And till the time that the other teams are unable to figure out how to counter their tactics with something better, both of them will continue following the same path. At the end of the day, all that matters is the three points, no?

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