John Helm column: Mumbai City FC can take on any opponent with the variety in attack
Mumbai City FC have made a flying start to the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 campaign scoring goals left, right and center.
The Islanders have scored most goals this season (16) in the Hero ISL and it comes as no surprise because they have had the most shots (94) and most shots on target (36) this season and also enjoy the best conversion rate of 14.9% in the Hero ISL this season.
It could have been even better for Des Buckingham’s team who have hit the woodwork five times, which is also the most by any team in the league.
To sum it up, Mumbai City FC have been irresistible in front of goal and it has been a product of months of work that started from their AFC Champions League campaign earlier this year.
Statement performance in Asia
I think when Mumbai City FC beat Air Force Club of Iraq who are three-time champions of AFC Cup, it really sent out a message to the whole of Asia that Indian clubs now had to be taken seriously.
It's one thing to beat a team in your own backyard and it's totally another thing to conquer a team with such illustrious history. I think that helped revise the image of Mumbai City FC in the eyes of prospective opponents from other countries. It also instilled confidence in the squad when they returned to domestic competition. This was evident in displays like against Chennaiyin FC where they didn't panic even when they went two goals behind. The message that went out to them was that we could score more and they did it six times.
Indian football experience is key
I think the squad strength is going to be absolutely vital this season. They did well bringing in the likes of Greg Stewart, Jorge Diaz, and Alberto Noguera and along with the vast experience of Mourtada Fall and Ahmed Jahouh in the Hero ISL, it adds great value to the side. Then Rostyn Griffiths has come in and is familiar to Des Buckingham from his spell in Australia.
Apart from that, they have been able to retain the core Indian group with the likes of Bipin Singh, Apuia and with Mehtab Singh, who is coming on leaps and bounds this season. Then there’s Rahul Bheke and Mandar Rao Dessai, who have a lot of experience. To add to all of this he has got Lalianzuala Chhangte who is rejuvenated and has got a new lease of life since he left Chennaiyin FC.
Variety in attacks sets Mumbai apart
I think they are able to take on any opposition now. They have more options, a plan B which they didn't have last season and Buckingham does acknowledge that. He did say that he inherited a squad with limitations which surfaced a bit last season.
Now if he wants to go direct, he can play Diaz upfront. He can be a bit more subtle with Noguera and Stewart. Jahouh can drop a bit deeper. Then of course, he has got the wide players in Chhangte and Bipin with Vikram Partap Singh to come on as well. And then he has got two exciting strikers in Gurkirat Singh who has just come back from an age-group international tournament scoring a lot of goals and Ayush Chhikara who Buckingham says is the nearest thing he has seen here to Erling Haaland. If he is anywhere as good as him, it won't be bad.
A look at MCFC’s next opponent – Bengaluru FC
Bengaluru FC were unbeaten in the Durand Cup and the first two matches of the Hero ISL 2022-23 season. They have still conceded only four goals in five matches but they have scored only two goals.
There is nobody who is creating chances for the likes of Roy Krishna and Sunil Chhetri. Of course, they don't have Prince Ibara, young Sivasakthi is injured as well and I don't think Simon Grayson yet knows his best XI. It's also ironic that Alan Costa who scored the winner in the Durand Cup final and also against NorthEast United FC is being sacrificed because he wanted to accommodate Javi Hernandez, Krishna, Aleksander Jovanovic and Bruno. Maybe there should be a role for Costa because he knows how to get the ball into the net.
I think Chhetri is still seen as a key man and yet he has decreasing influence. What they need is a spark or a stroke of good luck to get their season going and it could even come at Mumbai City FC.