Mumbai City FC returns to the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 action after over a month as they gear up to face Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on December 8, Friday. The Islanders will have to deal with the departure of Head Coach Des Buckingham as he decided to take over the reins at his boyhood club Oxford United FC last month.

The incumbent League Winners, identified as Buckingham’s Blue Army, had completely bought into the British tactician’s ideas, philosophy, and playing style in the last two years. He propelled them to great success, being at the helm for the longest duration at the Club, becoming the fastest to get to 100+ goals in the league, and also the youngest Head Coach ever to win the League Shield.

Replacing someone of that calibre appears to be a tough task, with assistant coach Anthony Fernandes and Hiyoshi Miyazawa carrying out the duties on an interim basis for the time being. However, the Islanders have to reclaim their domestic supremacy at the moment, after losing all six of their AFC Champions League group stage matches.

With no other commitments midway, they can bring back the focus completely on the ISL, where they currently hold the fifth spot in the standings after garnering 11 points from five games. They are eight points behind the top-placed FC Goa (19), who have also played two additional games (7). However, having had a good start to the season, Mumbai City FC would know that they cannot be dropping points early on in their pursuit of defending the shield. Intrigue over the new head coach aside, the team has to pull off their duties flawlessly on the field and the Blues will be waiting to pounce upon this moment of uncertainty in the Mumbai City FC camp.

What’s at stake?

Bengaluru FC

The Simon Grayson-coached side has drawn their last three league fixtures, and never before has the club been on a longer streak of draws in the ISL. Bengaluru FC have some impeccable attacking talent in their ranks, and it was prevalent in the way they came back to get level on 3-3 with Punjab FC last week.

However, they have won only once in their previous four fixtures against the Islanders, and it is a record they would be trying to set straight in the coming contest. They suffered due to multiple long-range efforts by the opposition in the previous game, and it is something that their midfield might look to fix in the game.

They will be wary of giving away too much space to the Mumbai City FC midfielders, given that the Islanders have multiple ways of dissecting the Bengaluru FC backline. At the same time, they will hope to replicate the offensive dynamism they displayed in the last game so that an end-to-end action unfolds at the Kanteerava.

Catch the highlights from BFC’s last match here: 

Mumbai City FC

Mumbai City FC have lost just once in their last 13 away games in the ISL, which was incidentally against Bengaluru FC during this very fixture in the league. They have emerged as one of the tougher teams to take on, and their tackle success rate of 60% testifies the same.

Rest assured, Bengaluru FC will not be handing a free pass to the Islanders in the middle of the park. Mumbai City FC build passing triangles at the centre, and their wingers play a critical role in stretching the opposition’s backline and delivering precise passes into the box for Jorge Pereyra Diaz.

This game is essential for them in a way to assert that they are not bogged down by the sense of unpredictability prevailing at the top of their team. Buckingham is gone, but he has almost automated his side to play football his way, and they are well-equipped to do so consistently unless someone with a distinctly different set of ideas replaces him.

Their defensive line needs some bolstering, given that they haven’t kept an ISL clean sheet in their last 12 games, the last such one being in January this year in the 4-0 victory over NorthEast United FC. Will the Islanders bring curtains down to that unfortunate run on Friday?

Watch the highlights of MCFC’s last match here: 

Key Player to Watch Out

Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)

The former Mumbai City FC player has scored against them nine times in the Bengaluru FC shirt in the ISL. It is his highest-ever tally in the league against any team, and also the most times any individual has netted in their matches with the Islanders. He has found the back of the net thrice and assisted twice in six appearances in the current campaign.

Chhetri has rediscovered a way to be constantly amongst goals. He is not merely settling near the frontline and waiting for opportunities to come his way. The skipper takes special efforts to drop back, don a role in building up play, distributing balls to the flank, and trusting his teammates to convert the chances that he is creating for them. The previous match was the first time in ISL history that Chhetri bagged two assists in a single game, and that speaks volumes of the efforts he is taking to have a more well-rounded impact in the proceedings.

Lallianzuala Chhangte (Mumbai City FC)

After a power-packed last season, when he scored 10 goals, Lallianzuala Chhangte has started this campaign on a slightly slower note.

He has two assists in five encounters to his name, but the suddenness with which he used to produce a goal in the previous campaign has been missing so far. Perhaps, a part of it is down to him undertaking an evolved responsibility this time around, which involves playing short passes to build up attacks near the final third.

His passing accuracy of 84.15% in the opposition’s half in the current season is the best amongst all Indian players to have attempted at least 50 such passes. That indicates that perhaps there is a greater responsibility on his shoulders in this campaign, but Chhangte will be keen to get back in his goal-scoring avatar, something that adds a degree of additional threat in Mumbai’s offensive endeavours.

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Played – 14

Bengaluru FC – 7

Mumbai City FC – 6

Draws – 1

Trivia: Naorem Roshan Singh is one game away from becoming the 10th player to reach 50 ISL appearances for Bengaluru FC.

Team Talk

“About Des leaving - it won’t be different than how it was when he was in charge of them. Because they have a way of playing in the City Football Group, the rest of the coaching staff is still in place, we know what to expect, the strengths, weaknesses of them,” Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson said in the pre-match press conference.

“We are back in the ISL. The last game that we played was almost a month back. We had a few ACL games in between but resuming back to the ISL is something that we are looking forward to. The team is very well prepared for an away game. Actually, we had an ACL game four days back so it’s more about recovery rest,” Mumbai City FC tactician Anthony Fernandes said in the pre-match press conference.

ISL Fantasy

Jorge Pereyra Diaz (8.9cr)

Has scored five goals in as many matches this season

Lallianzuala Chhangte (9.5cr)

Two assists in five appearances in ISL 2023-24 so far

Sunil Chhetri (8cr)

Five goal contributions in six matches in the current campaign

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Where to Watch

Fans across the country can catch the action in English, Hindi, Bengali, and Malayalam. Fans can watch the action on linear channels like Sports18 Khel (Hindi), Sports18 1 SD & HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam) & DD Bangla (Bengali). In addition to this, as part of FSDL’s partnership with OneFootball, ISL live streams and highlights of all matches of the upcoming 2023-24 season will be delivered across more than 190 countries.