Mumbai City FC are in the form of their life, perhaps performing better than they did back when they won the double of shield and title a couple of seasons ago. They are keen on taking the urn back from Jashmedpur FC (Current Shield holders) and Hyderabad FC (Current championship winners) and in a bid to do that, they have a tricky fixture at home to Kerala Blasters, who are flying high as well.
Des Buckingham has really taken the 2021 champions to another level. They are unbeaten in the league after 12 matches and dropped points only in three matches. Although Hyderabad FC moved to the top of the table courtesy of Bartholomew Ogbeche’s hat-trick against FC Goa on Friday, Mumbai City can move up ahead to top if they can win this fixture.
With the league entering arguably the most competitive and rigid phase of the tournament, all eyes are fixated on Mumbai City to see if they can keep up the same momentum going ahead. What does work in the favor of the Islanders is their bench strength and their lack of injuries right now, not something a lot of teams in the ISL can boast of.
The Maharashtrian side have had the tendency to remain silent in phases and suddenly explode like a dynamite. In their previous fixture against Odisha FC, Buckingham’s men were underwhelming in the first half, unable to complete the passes in the final third and missing some pretty good chances. But they attacked with a little more intensity in the next, scoring four times and despite conceding two, they took three points away from home, yet again.
The entire season has been a roller-coaster for Mumbai. After defeating East Bengal 3-0 away from home on their return from a 15-day hiatus, Mumbai City FC took Chennaiyin FC at home in which they emerged victorious after beating the Marina Machans 2-1.
On the other hand, Kerala Blasters FC currently sit 3rd in the ISL table, 5 points behind the Islanders going into this game. Ivan Vukomanovic’s side have won 8, lost 1 and drawn 3 games this season. After losing 2-0 to Mumbai City FC in the reverse fixture earlier this season Kerala Blasters FC have gone on an unbeaten run.
They drew 1-1 away from home with Chennaiyin FC in December. After the draw against Chennaiyin FC, the Blasters had back-to-back home games against Odisha FC and Jamshedpur FC in which they emerged as victors after beating them 1-0 and 3-1 respectively.
Head coach Buckingham was full of praise for his opposite number after the side have gone on a terrific streak lately, which includes a big win against Hyderabad FC away from home. “I think Kerala Blasters are a wonderful side. I think there’s only Ivan [Vukomanovic], Manolo [Marquez], and myself who have remained with the same team for the second consecutive season. And I think what you certainly get with that, you get some consistency, the players get used to the coaching and how the coach wants to play,” Buckingham said.
Aside from a tightened defence that has kept things incredibly organised in the back, a lot of the Blasters’ success has come through the terrific trio of Dimitrios Diamantakos, Ivan Kaliuzhnyi, and Sahal Abdul Samad, who have 13 goals between them so far. Given that their last fixture against Mumbai City FC was something of a turning point, they will be determined to set the record straight.
MUM vs KER Indian Super League 2022/23
Date: January 8, 2023
Time: 7:30 PM IST
Venue: Mumbai Football Arena, Mumbai
Mumbai City league form:
Kerala Blasters league form:
Mumbai City wins: 7
Kerala Blasters wins: 4
Mumbai City team news:
Mumbai City are without Amey Ranawade who is nursing a knee injury and Jackie Chand is inelibile to feature in the fixture. They currently have the third best defensive record on the league. The backline led by Indian veteran Mandar Rao Dessai conceded just 13 goals in the competition so far and have been contributing relentlessly in the attack as well.
Three different people have scored five or more goals for Mumbai City, a tally bettered by no other team in the Indian Super League this edition. They have been rampant going forward with Lallianzuala Chhangte being their top goal-scorer, having scored seven already. The likes of Bipin Singh and Jorge Pereyra Diaz scored six and five goals each respectively, keeping their attacking firepower on the move. Summer signing Greg Stewart also has been in terrific form, assisting seven times thus far this season, the most by any player in the league.
Kerala Blasters team news:
Kerala Blasters have a couple of injury concerns heading into this concerns. Ivan Kaliuzhnyi and Jessel Carneiro are not entirely fit but considering the scale of this contest, Vukomanovic might ask the players to step up in the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.
The Blasters’ defensive juggernaut have been brilliant in not letting teams break away from them and Marko Leskovic is leading the side by example (completed 24 interceptions, the highest in the league). Following in his footsteps are Hormipam Ruivah (completed 22 interceptions) and Kaluizhnyi (completed 25 successful tackles), who have made the attackers worry with their high-intense approach.
This did lead to Sandeep Singh get suspended and the right-back is likely to be replaced by Harmanjot Khabra.
Mumbai City possible starting lineup:
Phurba Lachenpa (GK); Rahul Bheke, Rostyn Griffiths, Mehtab Singh, Mandar Rao Dessai; Ahmed Jahouh, Lalengmawia Ralte; Lallianzuala Chhangte, Greg Stewart, Bipin Singh; Jorge Pereyra Diaz.
Kerala Blasters possible starting lineup:
Prabhsukhan Gill (GK); Harmanjot Khabra, Hormipam Ruivah, Marko Leskovic, Jessel Carneiro; Rahul KP, Jeakson Singh, Ivan Kaliuzhnyi, Sahal Abdul Samad; Dimitrios Diamantakos, Adrian Luna.
Mumbai City have been very brave with their possession game this season. They have kept the ball well, moved it with conviction and aren’t afraid of committing men forward. Their midfield and defence has answered very well to this high-intense approach from Buckingham, which led to the side conceding a few goals but also sees them as the leading goal-scorers in the tournament this edition, having banged home 36 strikes, nine more than their nearest competitors (Hyderabad FC).
This will be the big worry for the Blasters, who will have to do a lot of chasing. They have some exciting young talents like Sahal Abdul Samad and Adrian Luna who are more than capable of riding the wave forward on transitions, but the onus lies heavily Leskovic and company in the backline to keep things tightly knitted.
We have witnessed different trends over the years in the ISL especially once the season kicks into the second half. The weather conditions, the tight schedule and plenty of other factors have seen some teams topping the table at this stage of the tournament and they have gone on to lose control. Kerala Blasters have only picked up form very recently and it is unlikely that you will find them lose control.
What remains quite interesting in this stage of the tournament is what prevails at the end of the day long term consistency or picking up form when it matters the most. Our prediction for this game is for Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters to play out an entertaining 2-2 draw.