Not many would have given NorthEast United FC any real chance against the mighty Mumbai City FC line-up on paper. However, Gerard Nus showed that football is played on the field and not on paper. Mumbai City FC had a fearsome attacking line-up but they shut down and nullified by the defensive discipline and work rate that NorthEast United showed. Courtesy a second half penalty from Kwesi Appiah, NorthEast United FC defeated Mumbai City FC to kickstart their Indian Super League 2020-21 campaign on Saturday.
Nus knew the attacking threat that Mumbai City FC posed and so he set up his team to soak up pressure, wear down the opponents and then look for opportunities up front. Of course there is work yet to be done by NorthEast United up front but it was a good show of tactical nuance in their first match of the season.
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Here are the five talking points from the game:
Remember how you would set up your defence in a FIFA game? Nus’ team’s display on Saturday was almost a replica of how people close down in a video game. While he had a four-man backline on paper in Ashutosh Mehta, Benjamin Lambot, Dylan Fox and Gurjinder Kumar but often Ninthoiganba Meetei, their right winger, was seen helping the defence to form a 5-man backline. Mumbai City FC had much of the possession in the first half and throughout that phase, NorthEast United players closed down extremely to cut out the angles and block the passage that Mumbai would use to feed their attackers.
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Lambot and Fox formed a solid partnership at the back and covered for each other throughout the game with Khassa Camara proving to be a monster in the No.6 role. Camara was eventually deemed as the Hero of the Match for the precise reason that his ability to cover for his defenders in the centre matched with his ability to pass the ball forward, which made for a deadly combination.
A coach can set up his team in whatever way he wants but if the players are unable to execute the plan on the field, it will all be for nothing. NorthEast United players did not disappoint their coach on that front. The defensive discipline and concentration that the Highlanders showed throughout the match was exemplary. Even those couple of times where Subhasish Roy Chowdhury made a couple of errors in the goal, especially Fox was right in the position to cover from him.
As a unit, NorthEast United FC’s work rate was what got them through at the back of a penalty. Of course, Mumbai going down to 10 men in the 43rd minute helped but right from the beginning, the Highlanders knew their game plan and executed it to perfection.
BOUMOUS OUT OF POSITION
Hugo Boumous was the star of the FC Goa team last season that lifted the ISL Shield, finishing as the league stage table toppers. His life at Mumbai City FC did not quite start as expected. Boumous did not look completely in his elements and missed the usual spark and flair he has on the field. Of course, having to play out of position for most part of the match did not help.
NEUFC were blocking the channels to Jahouh and Rowllin Borges quite well, which made Boumous drop deeper in pursuit of creating something. However, playing completely out of place along with factors like striker Adam Le Fondre playing on the right wing and Bartholomew Ogbeche being closed down well, he failed to impact much.
Following Ahmed Jahouh’s dismissal towards the end of the first half, Boumous was deployed in the Moroccon’s place and the Frenchman was simply unable to pull the strings. Boumous, last season in FC Goa, used to play even higher up than Ferran Corominas and had a free role in the final third. His deployment in the middle of the pitch could not yield the same results.
NO PLAN B FOR MUMBAI
Sergio Lobera sides are often seen as one-dimensional and that was exactly what Mumbai looked like on Saturday. They started extremely well by putting NorthEast United FC under severe attack right from the word go. Jahouh, in the middle of the park, was pulling the strings while Borges beside him retrieved the ball and was a strong figure. Mumbai were continuously getting the ball up the field and trying to create something or the other while NorthEast were doing their job of limiting them as best as possible.
However, everything changed once Jahouh was given the marching orders.
Lobera failed to make systematic changes at half time that would give a new look to the team and the entire unit fell apart and failed to create anything useful. An astonishing statistic to come out from Saturday was that it was the first time in ISL that a Lobera team did not have a single shot on target. As much as that was a testament to NorthEast’s solid defending, it also showed the lack of cohesiveness at the start of the season in Mumbai.
All through the second half, Mumbai did not look like they had any real plan and just kept going with the flow, something that helped NorthEast United FC take control of the game.
NEUFC NEED MORE CREATIVITY UP FRONT
Any other team and NorthEast United FC may have found it a bit more difficult. NorthEast United FC lacked the creativity and the spark in the final third especially in the first half of the match. The players did improve in the second half with Appiah getting more support from Machado and Apuia. Also, when Idrissa Sylla replaced Appiah, NorthEast seemed to get more direct with the Guinean getting into positions well.
Apuia was good in the centre midfield but Ninthoi was often seen trying to do a little too much and ending up foiling the move. Machado will need to improve as well with the season and get more deliveries up for the strikers.