Expectations were high when Sergio Lobera took over from Jorge Costa as Mumbai City head coach ahead of the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season.
It wasn’t like any other change of direction. It was a transition to an expensive new philosophy that had proven to be successful in Indian football. It was also a declaration of intent from the club belonging to the City Football Group (CFG).
The Islanders lost their season opener to NorthEast United, but Lobera’s side have managed to bounce back in style. They are currently on an eight-game unbeaten streak and sit atop the ISL table at the end of matchday ninth.
But there were a few questions about the Lobera Islanders that remained unanswered. But on Tuesday, they outscored Bengaluru to a 3-1 victory in a way that served as a strong reminder to any skeptics about the team’s ability to perform in great matches.
The ease with which the Islanders managed to win against Bengaluru was impressive. While Bengaluru are generally a tough opponent for any team, Mumbai City have had the upper hand in meetings between the two teams over the past two seasons. The Blues have been winless against the Islanders for the past two seasons and Lobera has kept that tradition alive.
Carles Cuadrat’s side are also known to be very good with set pieces, but Mumbai quashed that threat quite easily. Two of the three goals Mumbai scored came from set pieces, which is worrying for the Bengaluru boss and pleasant for Lobera whose game plan was executed to perfection by his players.
Lobera has brought quite a few FC Goa players with him and while they all fit into the setup seamlessly what is even more remarkable is the improvement that other Indian players have made to the in the nine games so far. Left winger Bipin Singh is one of many players who took advantage of Lobera’s arrival and the 25-year-old was once again impressed with a beautiful display against the Blues which included a goal.
Mourtada Fall took advantage of Bengaluru’s poor defense in a corner to open the scoring. Mandar Rao Dessai delivered a cross-of-the-season contender to help Bipin’s first goal of the season, minutes later. Mumbai led 2-0 in less than 15 minutes.
After the referee thought that Fall’s excellent tackle on Silva inside the box was worthy of punishment, the otherwise ineffective Sunil Chhetri gave his team a glimmer of hope on the spot. However, substitute Bartholomew Ogbeche directed the ball towards Gurpreet Sandhu from a corner and the goalkeeper failed to hold the ball back and conceded the third goal of the evening.
Not only did Mumbai make Bengaluru’s attacking prowess non-existent, but they also continued to knock on defense doors and threatened to score whenever they pushed forward, especially in the first half. Changes to the Bengaluru squad in terms of player departures, short pre-season and adaptability affected their pace.
As for Lobera, the drop in intensity after the break in recent matches would be a concern as he would like the fight to be put to bed. But from the start that they did, it looks like Mumbai City is about to have a fantastic turn.