Mumbai City FC will travel to Kolkata to take on Mohun Bagan Super Giant in the final of the Indian Super League (ISL) Cup and will look for a different outcome than what they managed two weeks earlier when a defeat to the Mariners meant they had to surrender their League Shield crown. 

The roles are a bit reversed this time to an extent as Mohun Bagan SG are defending the ISL Cup that they won this year and Mumbai City FC are the challenger. 

The two sides met in the final in the 2020-21 campaign when the Islanders edged past the Mariners to become the first team to win the League and Cup double, an achievement which Antonio Habas’ side are looking to match this season. 

But all narratives aside, the outcome will be decided by a mouthwatering duel on the pitch where the country’s two best teams will go head to head again for silverware. 

Mumbai City FC bounced back from the disappointment of losing the Shield with a 5-2 aggregate win over FC Goa in the semi-final, a result which will give them the necessary tonic to take on their Mariners in their backyard. But the triumph did come at a cost with Petr Kratly losing one of his most trusted players, Yoell van Nieff to a suspension. 

The midfielder has been key to Mumbai’s solid defence that kept a clean sheet in the second leg of the semi-final against the Gaurs and will be missed in Kolkata on Saturday. 

However, Kratky and Mumbai City FC have shown that they are capable of digesting the loss of key players and personnel and maintaining the level of performances time and again this season and will have to showcase the power of their squad again on Saturday. 

As we build up to the big game, we take a look at possible solutions the Islanders could use to fill the Dutchman’s void.

Thaer Krouma in midfield

Kratky could be forced to play the Syrian defender in midfield to fill the void left by Van Nieff’s absence. He has played Krouma in midfield before in the first leg of the semi-final against FC Goa but that was alongside the Dutchman rather than in place of him. However, that experiment didn’t go as planned as the Islanders fought back only after he restored Krouma to central defence. Lalengmawia Ralte is expected to partner Krouma in midfield if he starts there with either Albero Noguera or Jayesh Rane taking the third midfield spot

Putting Krouma in midfield could also weaken Mumbai City FC’s defence line especially if Akash Mishra doesn’t return for the Islanders at left-back. Kratky used a central defensive pairing of Tiri and Krouma against FC Goa with Rahul Bheke and Mehtab Singh flanking them. But if Krouma is shifted to midfield, Bheke will take up the central defender’s role with Mehtab Singh needing to return to his right-back position, leaving Mumbai City FC to find someone to play at left-back. Mishra could be the person allowing Krouma to feature in midfield. Kratky has other options in Valpuia and Sanjeev Stalin in full-back positions

Jayesh Rane and Albero Noguera in an attack-minded midfield

Sometimes attack is the best form of defence and Kratky may choose to go down that route to cover for the loss of his Dutch midfielder. The Islanders don’t have a like-for-like replacement for Van Nieff and it may prompt Mumbai City FC to go with an all-new approach. 

A midfield of Ralte, Rane and Noguera will be high on technical quality and energy and can cause Mohun Bagan SG problems with their movement and passing ability. Rane has flourished under Kratky and has appeared in all of Mumbai’s last seven matches, starting twice. He made a big impact after coming on against FC Goa as he provided the assists for both of Chhangte’s goals. His work rate is also impressive and can help Mumbai City FC cover the vastness of the Salt Lake pitch. 

However, this midfield lacks in physicality and may struggle to compete against the likes of Joni Kauko in midfield. Habas is very flexible with his approach and could exploit this weakness. 

Vinit Rai back in the fold

The only defensive midfielder available to Kratky is Vinit Rai. Rai has played alongside Ralte this season and even played four matches in the AFC Champions League. Fielding Rai in midfield will allow Mumbai City FC to have two foreign centre-backs and two attacking overseas players. 

However, the Indian has been a bit out of favour under Kratky and has only started twice in the league. His last start was in the 2-3 loss to Jamshedpur FC and has only featured for a minute since. Rai’s presence will lend balance to the Mumbai side but throwing him in such a big match when he hasn’t played much of late is a big risk. 

However, Rai would be a bit more of a defensive option to Rane and would provide some cover for the defence, especially with Mohun Bagan Sg likely to counter at pace. 

Kratky has options up his sleeve to fill in for the suspended Van Nieff and his choice could go a long way in determining the outcome. He could go with some of the more obvious options or could spring up a complete surprise. But whichever option the head coach picks, he will surely have a very strong side on the pitch given the quality that the Islanders possess. Exciting times await.