Jo Paul Ancheri on LFL show: One defeat is not the end for Blasters

Mumbai City FC put up a commanding show in the latest Hero Indian Super League (ISL) fixture against Kerala Blasters FC, winning 4-0 on their home turf at the Mumbai Football Arena, on Sunday. Their resounding win put an end to the Blasters’ eight-match unbeaten streak while the Islanders extended their unbeaten run to 13 matches alongside breaking a host of other records.

The game was discussed in the latest LFL show, which featured Indian football legend Jo Paul Ancheri, Hero ISL commentator Pulasta Dhar alongside host Suyash, as they had an overview of the match, the importance of management, the effect of the result on both the coaches, and much more.

The game against Mumbai City FC was decided in the first half hour on Sunday, which was quite surprising after the run the Blasters have had (of eight games unbeaten), touted as one of the teams to put on a show against the Islanders and end their unbeaten run in the league.

“I was surprised to see the unbeaten run come to an end the way it did, within 22 minutes the game was finished, and that is a big problem. The early goals took the Blasters down, which was very disappointing,” expressed Ancheri, who felt the result was a bit harsh.

Watch the full LFL show here

With the pair of Marko Leskovic and Sandeep Singh missing the game, Victor Mongil and Harmanjot Khabra filled in the shoes for the absentees.

“It was very important to win those battles in the early minutes, especially between Mumbai City FC’s Bipin Singh and Kerala Blaster FC’s Harmanjot Khabra. In hindsight, we can probably conclude that (Nishu Kumar) could have played, but we can see from where Vukomanovic was coming from, Khabra is a big character in the dressing room, and he was banking on that,” said Dhar while discussing the Khabra vs Kumar debate.

Lallianzuala Chhangte and Bipin Singh’s constant threat on the flanks changed the entire perspective of the game and threw Vukomanovic's game plan out the window. Both of them had another outing where they showed why they have been one of the best wingers this season.

“He (Bipin) has been one of the best wingers in India and you cannot imagine any other player because of the confidence he has and he has that individual quality to attack and pass in between the lines. Even with Chhangte, they have good weapons on both wings as they are very quick and their decision making is very good, and that is exactly one of their strengths,” said Ancheri.

“He (Chhangte) has that fighting spirit and that will make him one of the best Indian wingers. He was good last season, but this year he is on another level,” he added.

Chhangte and his output in the final third had always been under the spotlight, but ever since he made the transfer from Chennaiyin FC to Mumbai City FC, he seems to be a totally different player who has answered his critics well and is flying high in the ongoing Hero ISL season.

“He (Chhangte) probably made the best decision of his career and it is not just him repaying the club’s trust but the players around him and the staff and helping him grow. He has always had speed, trickery, and shooting ability; it has all contributed to Chhangte blossoming this season. At 25, we have four to five really good years coming from Lallianzuala Chhangte,” stated Pulasta Dhar.

The experts also spoke about how the head coach dealt with players of such high calibre in the dressing room, the management and man-management skills required to play them together as a unit.

“That is a very big part of coaching, as no one wants to sit back. The coach is a very big part of how to manage the situation. Everything depends on the coach,” stated Ancheri, who has played with some of the biggest stars in Indian football during his playing career.

“The biggest challenge for Des Buckingham was the selection of the starting eleven, and he has got it right so far,” said Dhar.

“It is a brilliant move and probably the most important January signing in the history of the Hero ISL. It is also big for Buckingham as you want to be with the city football group (as a young coach), who seem to be backing him, and it is all coming together since they have made him more wanted in that setup,” he added.

Heading into a 14-day break after the game, the Blasters have plenty of time to recover from their setback. While the loss might seem as a worrying situation, there’s plenty to look forward to for the Kochi-based side to get their feet back on the pedal.

“One defeat is not the end as seen by a lot of people, it is not a very bad result, and the Blasters sit in third place in the Hero ISL standings, and they can overcome the result in the next match,” said Ancheri, who feels the Blasters can still achieve the objectives.

The Islanders can yet again create history by becoming the first club to stay unbeaten and be Hero ISL’s first-ever invincibles. In thirteen games altogether, there have been very few teams who have managed to have a crack at the Mumbai City FC side.

“We thought a side that has won seven of the last eight games (Kerala Blasters FC) is the only one that could stop them. I think Hyderabad FC can, and qualitatively, there are other sides who can spring a surprise, but Mumbai City FC simply have a plan for everything thrown at them,” Pulasta concluded.

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