Mumbai City FC will travel to take on Punjab FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi as the Matchweek 18 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 commences with the double header on March 2, 2024, Saturday, at 5:00 pm IST.

The Islanders are within touching distance from top spot, currently at second place in the standings. With 32 points from 16 games, they will equal the top-placed Odisha FC (35), who solidified their hold over pole position in the table with a 2-1 comeback win against East Bengal FC last evening.

Regardless, the Petr Kratky-coached team has an inferior goal difference (13), as compared to Odisha FC (15), and hence their motive must be not only to win, but win big at the home of the ISL debutants. But if form is anything to go by, then Punjab FC is no pushover anymore.

They have collected three wins in four matches since the resumption of the ISL after the mid-season break in January.

They have beaten Bengaluru FC, Kerala Blasters FC, and Hyderabad FC in the meantime, with their latest win against the Thangboi Singto-coached side coming with a clean sheet on the road.

The table dynamics are such that Punjab FC (17 points from 16 games) can level the sixth-placed Jamshedpur FC (20 points from 17 games) with a victory in this encounter.

Though they still won’t break into the playoffs spots as the Red Miners (3) have a significantly better goal difference (-7) than Punjab FC, but it is still a good enough reason for the home side to not let their momentum slip away at this crucial juncture of the competition.

What’s at stake?

Punjab FC

Punjab FC had come extremely close to bagging their opening win of the campaign when they had toured the City of Dreams for this fixture earlier in this campaign.

Their early lead by Luka Majcen was cancelled by twin strikes by Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Greg Stewart within 51 seconds late in the second half, depriving the Staikos Vergetis-coached side of all three points from the match.

In the coming game, Punjab FC will be eyeing to ensure that they manage to keep consecutive clean sheets for the first time in the ISL.

There is a visible improvement in their style of play lately, which is backed by relevant numbers. Since the turn of the year, Punjab FC has garnered an expected goals (xG) tally of 6.22 while their expected goals against (xGA) tally stands at 2.79.

Their expected goal difference (xG minus xGA) of 3.43 is the highest of any team in this span. Punjab FC has been extremely efficient defensively too, making 21 clearances per match this season, which is the highest recorded aggregate by any team.

They will want all these departments to tick concurrently against the high-flying Mumbai City FC.

Mumbai City FC

The Islanders have been disciplined on the defensive front away from home in this campaign.

They have kept four clean sheets on the road in ISL 2023-24, which is tied with their highest tally (4) on this front in any campaign of the competition.

They have not scored any goal in their last two consecutive away encounters. Moving forward, they have been constantly cracking open loopholes in the opposition’s defence, recording 73.5% in the opposition’s half in the top-tier since the start of 2024.

This is the highest rate for any team in this period, playing 164 successful passes in the territory in this calendar year, which is the second-highest aggregate amongst all teams, after Kerala Blasters FC (182).

This demonstrates some impeccable neatness in the final third, despite the departure of Stewart and absence of Diaz due to suspension.

Players like Bipin Singh have been making a difference off the bench, with Vikram Pratap Singh coming to the fore by displaying his goal-scoring prowess brilliantly off late.

Key Players to Watch Out

Madih Talal (Punjab FC)

The Frenchman has been central to helping Punjab FC make rapid strides this season.

Madih Talal has notched three goals and secured five assists in ISL 2023-24, making one of each in the previous clash against Hyderabad FC. Talal has created 36 goal-scoring opportunities in 16 ISL appearances, averaging 33 passes per game at 80% accuracy.

His nimble footedness and crafty vision helps him put incisive deliveries inside the box, which are pounced upon by the duo of strikers Wilmar Jordan Gil and Luka Majcen. He is averaging 3.9 dribbles per 90 minutes, only next to Noah Sadaoui (4.1) in the entire league.

Defensively, he has chipped in with seven interceptions, earning 47 fouls, and has been booked only once in the current campaign. He will be hopeful of keeping this momentum upbeat in the final six games of Punjab FC’s league run.

Vikram Partap Singh (Mumbai City FC)

Vikram Partap Singh has risen to the occasion amidst injuries and absences due to different reasons of his senior striking counterparts.

He has netted four times and assisted once in 15 appearances this season, averaging a goal contribution every 145.6 minutes in the ISL. He has scored thrice in his last three appearances, but his away record is something that he will want to fix.

Vikram has not found the back of the net in any of his previous eight away appearances. He has earned 12 fouls and taken 20 shots so far in the current campaign.

Lately, he has been consistently getting into goal-scoring positions, capitalising upon the chances created by his fellow forwards.

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Played – 1

Punjab FC – 0

Mumbai City FC – 1

Draws – 0

Trivia: Punjab FC’s Luka Majcen has registered an expected goal tally of 3.42 since the start of 2024, the highest such tally by any player in the Indian Super League in the same time period.

Team Talk

“(Madih) Talal is a high-quality player. It is very good for Indian football to have players like Talal, as they encourage other players to come to India at younger ages,” Punjab FC head coach Staikos Vergetis heaped praise on his star player.

“We will approach this month just like we approach any other month. February was very good for us, after the Jamshedpur FC game, our team got together and performed very well. We just need to keep that up,” Mumbai City FC head coach Petr Kratky said in the pre-match press conference.

ISL Fantasy

Rahul Bheke (3.8cr)

Guarantees diligent defensive contributions

Phurba Lachenpa (4.9cr)

Pulled off a critical last-ditch save in the previous match against FC Goa

Madih Talal (5.4cr)

Has recorded eight goal contributions this season

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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 HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam), News 18 Kerala (Malayalam – select matches) & DD Bangla (Bengali). Fans can also catch the action streaming Live for free on JioCinema, the home of Indian football. 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.